It was the right thing to do, Melanie says again.
It wasn't, I tell her. Not like that.
What was the alternative? Jeb was asking. Were you gonna lie?
No. Of course not.
Then you did the right thing.
Why doesn't it feel so right?
I heard her sigh in my thoughts. Because he's hurting. Because as much as he needed to know he has a son, it should have been me telling him. I should have been in control of my own body and tell him.
I'm sorry, I tell her. And I mean it. Really and truly sorry.
I know you are, she says. But it doesn't make anything less the way it is.
Melanie's thoughts fade away, as if she needs to be alone. The thought makes me want to laugh. As if either one of us was ever really alone anymore.
Jeb left not too long after Jared did, after my little confession. My mind was screaming. We both hated to see Jared's reaction to the news. I couldn't tell what he was expecting or even what he wanted to hear. All I knew is he was upset. Jeb even gave him a headstart before following out there.
So here I sat. Alone with Melanie inside my head and just our thoughts. Both of us registered the pain on Jared's face when he asked how old James is. I was so afraid of telling him but Melanie told me I had to. I agreed with her but I hated being the one to tell him. She was right. She was the one who should have told him about their child.
I sighed. I wish I never came here. Even with what the Seeker wanted to do, maybe I could have went somewhere else. Somewhere away from her and I would have been safe. I wouldn't have had to hurt anyone else I care about the way I had to hurt Jared and will have to hurt Jamie when he finds out.
The thought of Melanie's little brother, who would be thirteen now, came over me. Her silence in the back of my mind was obviously listening to my own thoughts and sending me memories. She showed me teaching him to ride a bike, family dinners, her father, her mother. So many years within seconds and I felt the urge to cry all over again.
This was a mistake.
Suddenly I heard a sound down the tunnel. I looked down that way and tried to see through the darkness. It was someone I'd recongize anywhere. Jared was with me again. He was farther away then before. Seemed like he got the answers he wanted and was keeping his distance. But why would he be here?
Panic rose in my stomach. Is James okay? Why else would he leave him? I tried to get up, but then I sank back down. I didn't want to hurt him or anyone else more than I already had. His head turned my way and noticed my movements, saw I had tried to come closer to him. The look on his face told me he didn't want that.
"The baby..." I said to him. My voice sounded like a whisper and I didn't think I could get more out of my dry mouth.
Jared's eyebrows rose and to my surprise, moved himself closer to the front of the hole. "What did you say?"
I tried again. "The baby...is he all right?"
"He's fine," Jared stiffened. "He's with Doc."
I sagged in relief, happy nothing was wrong with him. "But if he's okay..." I stopped again. He looked at me curious.
I swallowed. "Why would you be with me?"
"Guard duty," he said tightly.
I nodded but didn't dare ask more. Jared moved back to the spot he first sat in and I sank in a corner of my hole. Why was I talking to him? It's so stupid of me.
I'm glad you did.
Why would you be glad I did? I thought you hated his pain.
Because I've been without him too long. It's not enough to just see him. I want to hear him, too.
I sighed to her. We're hurting him, Melanie. Just by being here. I shouldn't try to have conversations with him because you miss him.
I know, she agreed. But still.
She's quiet for a moment then speaks again.
You can tell him I'm in here, you know.
No! Iyell at her. I'm not doing that! Do you see his face? He's not going to believe me!
He believed you about James, she points out.
That doesn't mean he trusts me, I say.
But it doesn't mean he doesn't, she argues. Come on, Wanderer.
No. And that's final.
Melanie huffed in anger and went back to her own corner inside our head. She watched Jared at the end of the tunnel, I could feel her. And if I was being honest, I have to say I glanced at him a couple of times.
Someone walked down the tunnel to Jared a few minutes later. Jeb brought him food in a tray. I watched the two of them as my stomach growled. When was the last time I even ate anything? Jeb smiled at me before he walked away.
When he was gone, I turned the other way to not see the food. But seconds later, I hear footsteps and scraping on the rocky floor. I turn to look and I see Jared walking away, the tray at the entrance to my hole.
I pratically jump to it. I'm so starving I don't even care it's just bread and some oatmeal. I scarf it down greedily and smile when I'm finished. I push the tray back to the edge and go back to my corner.
Jared picks up the tray and leaves the tunnels. Without him here with me, I'm scared. It's not like I feel entirely safe with him around - not when he hates for stealing the woman he loves' body so much - but it feels better. Melanie agrees with me and hopes he'll come back soon.
The next time we hear footsteps, she gets excited. But fast, her mood changes and she becomes worried.
I thought you weren't afraid of Jared? I ask her.
That's not Jared, she answers.
I roll myself into a ball, trusting the girl trapped in the body with me. Closing my eyes, I hide my head near my knees and hug my legs close to my chest. There's a laughter when the footsteps get closer and I know that laugh. My skin turns ice and all I wish for is Jared to come back.
And he brought a few friends.
I open my eyes again and peer up at my predators. Kyle is standing in the front, the one named Ian to his side and two other guys stood behind the both of them. I swallow hard and try to ask whoever or whatever it is out there that created humans to spare me. They come closer and I curl more and more into myself.
"Well, look what I found," Kyle sneered. "It's a parasite."
He comes right to the front of my hole and leans down, so he's looking me at eye level. "Hello, there, alien. We're here to make sure us, humans, are safe from you and your kind. Say your last words."
I close my eyes and get ready for whatever's coming when I hear running. It's fast and coming right towards us. It's probably one of Kyle's friends, adding more to his calvary. Instead of coming towards me, it stopped Kyle. I open my eyes only a bit and see Jared standing in front of Kyle. Kyle's lip is bleeding and and he's not standing straight. Jared punches him on the face and I cringe.
But then another realization hits me: he's protecting me.
Well, maybe not me, exactly. But Melanie's body. And right now, that's good enough for me.
Ian sees that Kyle is occupied and rushes over to me. I back up against the wall and stand, ready to run if I have to. But he doesn't let me run. His fingers wrap around my neck and hold me in place, choking me. It's hard to breath but I can't move. I can't do anything.
Fight it, Wanderer, a voice deep in my head tells me.
I can't, I tell my mental roomate.
A shot rings out through the tunnel. Ian stops choking me but his hands stay on my neck as he looks over to what just happened. Jared has stopped hitting Kyle, who is now on the floor holding his hands up in defeat. His two friends look like they were about to grab Jared away when the shot happened.
Jeb stands there with a huge gun, watching all of us. "Now what exactly is going on here? Or do I even need to ask?"
"We took a vote," Kyle says as he begins to stand. He's careful to not get close to Jared. "It has to die, Jeb."
"Who says?" Jeb asks.
"We say," one of Kyle's friends replies.
"Brandt, it's not up for a vote," Jeb tells them. He turns to each one. "That goes for you all - Kyle, Ian, Aaron."
"What about Jared?" the one named Aaron asks. "He was defending it!"
"He was supposed to be on guard," Jeb says with a look that tells him he shouldn't have left his spot. "I better not catch any of you here again."
"Jeb-" Kyle starts.
"Not another word about it," he says.
"But we're not safe," Ian says. He's finally taken his hands off of me and walks toward his brother. "Not with one of them down here."
"That's why we took the vote," Kyle finishes.
"And like I said," Jeb adds. "It's not up for debate."
Ian asks, "Then who's it up to?"
Jeb's face looks in Jared's direction. He hasn't spoken the whole time Jeb's been here but now that the attention is on him, he exclaims. "Me? Why's it have to be on me?"
"New rule," Jeb explains. "Whoever a body belongs to is the person in charge of what happens to it."
"So just because him and her were sleeping tog -"
"Now, now," Jeb interrupts Kyle. "None of that. Jared's in charge and not another word about it."
Kyle looked even more angry if it was possible. Him and his friends left with one more look to me that sent chills through me. Jeb walked up to Jared. "Maybe I should watch her for a while, Jared."
"I'm fine," Jared told him.
"It's not a question," he said. "Now go see...you know who."
Jared seemed to understand what that meant and nodded, leaving me behind. A voice said to me, He means Jamie.
Oh, I told myself. That made sense.
Jeb walked closer to me. "You can sit. I'm not going to hurt you."
I nodded and that was the first time I'd realized just how heavy I was breathing. I sat down beside him. "You don't have to worry about that happening again."
I nodded again. I didn't believe him. Of course they would try again. Why wouldn't they? When I didn't answer, he kept speaking. "I don't even know your name, you know. Your kind - they call you something, don't they?" Another nod; he laughs. "Would you mind telling me what it is?"
"Wanderer," I say in a low voice.
He smiles, pleased to know it. "Wanderer. That's a nice name."
"Thank you," I whisper.
"If you don't mind me asking, how did you get it?" he asks.
I take a deep breath. I already talked to Jared and that was the second hard thing being here. I haven't been through the hardest yet. "Because I wandered many planets," I admit. "Everyone of my kind thought it suited me."
He nods. "Traveling planets, Wanderer - it does seem to fit together. How many are there?"
I stay quiet. Does he really want to know about the aliens who took over his planet? He must realize what he's asking because he doesn't say it again but asks me to go on a walk.
I walk with Jeb, behind him and looking around. He takes me to a stream and he tells me I can take a bath there. I do and when I come out, I see he's left clothes there for me to change into. Looking at my clothes I came here in, I noticed how much I needed this - the bath and a change. I thank him when I come out.
We don't walk far but when we come back to the hole, I'm sad to see it end. That tour allowed to stretch my legs and look at something besides the same four walls. I climb back in and he lets me fall asleep.
When I wake up, I hear Jared and Jeb's hushed voices. They're talking about a raid. Jeb says, "When do you think you'll have to leave?"
"Soon," Jared says. "Turns out we have less than I thought. I had Aaron do a check of our supplies this morning."
"How much is there?" Jeb says.
Jared shrugs. "It's hard to tell. With our numbers, a week maybe, tops."
Jeb swears under his breath. "Okay. Tell them to get ready to go in three days."
"All right," Jared replies then he looks to me. "What about - you know?"
"I'll keep her as safe as I can," he answers. "I'd have to stay down here though."
"Maybe I should stay then," Jared's face looks torn. "It might be better off if I do. James...maybe I should stay."
Hearing James' name out of his mouth makes my heart pick up. Jared never addressed him by name before. Again, not your kid, Melanie tells me.
I sigh. I definitely know that. I promise myself one day that I'll have my own. But then I question how and change my train of thoughts.
"No," Jeb says and brings me back to reality. "We need you out there. You're the best solider we got and we need you to keep Kyle reigned in."
"I know but..." he looks down then back up. "Jeb, I have a son. And I don't know if I can leave him. Not yet."
"I know, son," he says. "But we need you. You just rest and make a decision and get back to me. Just remember how much good you've done since you got here, how much you've helped. I won't make your decision for you but you've got people here who will look after James for you, too."
Jared nods. "Okay."
I close my eyes then and go back to sleep.
The next time I wake up, I saw a small face standing over me. Jamie. I'd know that face anywhere. This is the first time I've seen him in person. He's a lot bigger, he's really growing into himself. Melanie gasps in relief at the sight of her younger brother, so happy to see him again.
I sit up instantly. He stays standing in front of me. "Do you know who I am?"
I nod. "You are Jamie."
Now he nods. "Jared didn't want me to see you. I can guess why now."
I put my head down in shame at now causing him pain. My hardest moment was happening. "Why are you here if he said not to come?"
"I had to see you," he answers. "Even if you're not my sister...I have to see you."
"I am glad you did," I tell him.
"I have a nephew," he says and I nod. "What happened to my sister? If the baby really is hers, what happened to her that the baby survived?"
"She was cornered by Seekers," I tell him. I feel the most confident telling him. "There was nowhere else to run but an elevator shaft. She jumped down. The doctors told me the baby was too small to really feel it so he survived."
Jamie nods, trying to understand. "So it really is Melanie's baby?"
I nod now. "Yes."
"She fell down an elevator shaft?" he asks.
I nod again. "It was empty and she saw no other choice."
"But she lived," he says mostly to himself. "She made it, didn't she?"
"Her body did," I try my best to lie. "Yes."
"Is she dead?" He asks.
I stay quiet and he takes it as answer - yes. He begins to let out small sobs and both me and Melanie's heart begins to break. "No. She's not."
He looks up at me, confused and afraid to hope. Out in the hallway, I see something. More like someone. Jeb has been listening to us. Jamie smiles at me and I try to make one back. Suddenly, there is someone else there. Of course. Jared.
"What the hell is this?" he asks. "Jeb, why is he here?"
"He wanted to see her," he answers. "I came with him to make sure it was all right."
"Jeb," Jared says in a strained voice. "He can't be down here."
"I'm right here, you know!" Jamie yells to Jared. He shocks not only me but Melanie. She'd never seen him get so angry. "I had the right to see her but you tried to take it away from me!"
"You were better off," Jared explained, much more calm then the small boy. "What good would this do? Take you to see the body thief?"
I flinch at his words but don't protest. He's right. I'd have nothing to argue.
"It'd be better than not knowing!" Jamie yells and he runs off into the darkened tunnels. Jared looks at me then runs off after him.
Jeb looks at me and forms a smile. "Don't worry about them. They'll be fine."
I nod. "Good."
"You talked a lot to him, Wanderer," he comments. "Would you mind if I shortened your name?"
"No," I say.
"How does Wanda sound?" he asks me. "It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"
"Yes," I say. "I like it very much."
"Good," he beams. "Wanda it is."
Days pass and everyone gets ready to leave on the raid. I will miss Jared fiercely and more than that, I want Jamie to come back and visit. And I want to see James. It seems like forever since I've seen him or held him. Not since that first day in the caves and it's driving me crazy.
Before leaving, Jared comes and sees me. He passes me bread just like he had before but this time, he watches me. In the back of my mind, I believe it's because he thinks Kyle's brother, Ian, will kill me when he's gone. He wants to pretend I'm Melanie and see me one last time.
That's not it, she says.
That's what you think, I say back. Of course he wants it be you.
I don't deny that, she replies. But I think he wants to see us before he goes.
I laugh to myself and he leaves. I wonder if I'll ever see him again. Jeb comes to sit with me after they've left and tells me they're gone. But he has a surprise for me - he's brought James to see me.
I woke up feeling sick to my stomach. Again. I rush to my bathroom in my private apartment and kneel over the toilet bowl. It looks like I'd emptied the entire contents of my stomach into the bowl when the sickness goes away. I leave the bathroom and decide to make an appointment with my healer.
He leaves me in the room by myself as he checks the tests to find out what's been making me so sick. When he returns, his face is excited and smiling. It wasn't what I was expecting.
"I have great news, Wanderer," he tells me. "Your tests tell me you are expecting a baby."
"Excuse me?" I ask. How can I be expecting a baby? Then it hits me. I've only been in this body for seven weeks. Maybe my human host was before I was inserted into her.
"A baby!" he beams. "Congratulations. Are you going to tell your partner today?"
"I don't have a partner," I answer. "I think this is my host's baby."
"How exciting!" he remarks. "You can start the baby fresh!"
"I guess so," I laugh. I don't know why I can't make myself feel more excited about first human host and already carrying a child? Maybe I wasn't ready for Earth after all.
He tells me he has another patient to go see and congratulates me one more time. I smile up at him and once he's gone, I put my hand on my belly. "Hello, baby. It's just you and me I guess. I don't know who your daddy is. I don't even know who your mommy is, not really. But you and me, we're going to make it work, okay?"
I stand from my seat and leave the room. But instead of heading home to my apartment, I go to the nearest store and begin shopping for things for my unborn child.