Chapter One: In which Tanu helps Vanessa
Another sleepless night on the tailcoats of a busy day. Wonderful. Vanessa exhaled violently through her nose before inhaling the soft evening air through her lips. All around her, nocturnal creatures tittered and whistled, calling out to one another under the veil of night. They all sounded content, and happy to be where they were.
"Fucking braggarts." she muttered. Exhaling even more violently this time, she rose abruptly and rolled her neck around. Apparently there would be no meditation tonight.
She turned and trotted back into the main house at Fablehaven, closing the porch door softly behind her. She spared the grandfather clock a glance on her way to the kitchen, and nearly screamed.
"It's 4 in the goddamn morning. This is ridiculous." And now she was talking to herself. Good.
She set about making herself some coffee, figuring there would be no point in sleeping now. They had a mission debrief at 7, and a 10 am flight. She would Xanax herself and sleep on the plane. For now, caffeine. As she turned around to cross to the coffee pot, she nearly dropped the mug and creamer she held. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming as she made eye contact with Tanu, who sat peacefully at the kitchen island, a mug of his own in hand.
"Good morning, Vanessa." he rumbled in his deep baritone, sparing her a glance and a smile as he looked up from a thick book.
She felt the tense air hiss out of her mouth as she shut her eyes for a brief moment. She tolerated Tanu best out of nearly everyone on this preserve. She was loathe to damage their relationship by snapping at him in her exhaustion-fueled haze. Fixing a small smile to her lips, one she reserved to keep there until she entered her medicated sleep-flight, she opened her eyes.
"Buongiorno, Tanu. Sleep well?" she slipped past him and set about making her coffee. A dewey morning chill had crept into her bones while outside and she needed a warm mug in her hands, pronto.
"Well enough, I suppose. You?"
She nearly dropped the coffee grinds. His tone was in no way suggesting an answer either way, but it didn't sound like he'd appreciate a lie, even if it was for the sake of pleasantries.
"Um, not too well, unfortunately," she mumbled, hating the weakness in her own voice. "But hey, what can you do, right?"
She grinned amiably, making sure her smile was tinged with just enough self-deprecation. She didn't want to have this conversation, a real conversation, with Tanu. Or anyone really. Not yet.
He hummed, narrowing her eyes in thought, but never letting his smile waver as he dog-eared the book - a reference textbook, she could see now.
"What are you reading?" It was a weak attempt to divert the conversation from the serious. She knew it, and she knew he knew it. She sneered at herself mentally, hearing the Sphinx's mocking laughter at her rusty espionage skills deep within her. The same mocking laughter that had stolen R.E.M. sleep from her for the past two nights. Bastard.
Tanu must have noticed the desperation that edged her question, and she saw his eyes soften ever so slightly. Pity, yay.
"It's a copy of a very old tome my father sent me. The potions mentioned in this book are all derived from animals in some way, making it a bit archaic, and questionable. It's less of an instructional, more of a narrative."
She felt herself wake up a bit, the cobwebbed gears in her head turning at the mention of biotic potion making. A very old, and very questionable field indeed. Her mind was spitting words out before she would filter them as she turned to fix her freshly-brewed coffee.
"Is there anything about the naiad-infested waters and their chemical properties? Or, how about chimera blood, and how unstable it is. Did anyone ever try to make anything with it? What about hippogriff feathers, they have cloaking abilities right? I hear that can be transmitted between states really well, right? "
Tanu looks both pleasantly surprised and pleased with himself as she spins around, sets her coffee down and continues her endless stream of thought. She barely registers her hands moving around without her consent, and decides she can let it slide.
"And on the less humane side, is there anything about the dragon slayings around 1200? By the Nords? What about the anthropogenic African Wendigo extinction? Oh! Or the decline in Chinese nypsies around the time the wall was built? Weren't those all connected to people needing their body parts for potions?"
As she settled down into her chair and checked herself, Tanu seemed to be analyzing her. Just as she was about to excuse herself and her outburst, he spoke up.
"Actually, the chapter I'm on now is all about the Nordic conquests for Dragonsbane and adamant. It really fascinating…"
Tanu pulled his chair closer to her, experimentally entering her personally space. She quickly scanned herself, and when she found no anxiety, she leaned in to meet him halfway. Their heads conjoined over the pages of the old book, and even though her body was exhausted, Vanessa's mind hadn't been so awake in years. The voices and their laughter faded into her subconscious, and soon bled away entirely.
She slept through the whole 17 hour flight with her head on Tanu's shoulder, and the book resting reassuringly on her lap.
The mission had gone better than anyone could have hoped for. They'd gotten in on time, their intel had been straight, the threat to the Icelandic preserve was handled quickly, and no one was fatally injured.
Well, Warren concussed himself hiking down, but somethings are just the status quo.
All in all, they had kicked ass and worked as a team better than ever. She and Bracken even kept the bickering to mild comments and occasional glares. It was fantastic.
So why in the hell couldn't she sleep.
"Here we go again." Vanessa grumbled. She turned over in bed as gently as possible; Warren slumbered on his side of her bed, sawing logs blissfully. She leaned in to brush his hair aside and analyze to goose-egg he got from the fall, as well as the gash on his cheek from the Yeti. As she probed the wounds as non-invasively as she could, Warren started to stir, half-formed words blowing past his limp lips.
"Nessa…" he murmured.
"Yeah?" she whispered back.
"No sleep? Sleep time. Why no sleep?" his slurred words tugged a smile onto her lips.
"No, Warren, not tonight. You sleep, though, you need it."
"Good plan, I like to sleep." He curled furler into her blankets as he spoke, and was soon back in a deep sleep. She pressed her lips to his brow, closing her eyes to see if sleep pulled at her. Unfortunately, she could only feel the thrum of her bitten victim's sleep cycles, and found no evidence of her own. She sighed, swung her legs out of bed, and set about dressing herself in 3am appropriate clothes. She emerged with a soft black tank, fuzzy flannel pants she wasn't sure were hers, and a lack of underwear. At least her hair wasn't as Walk-of-Shame as it could've been. She padded down the hall to the kitchen, grabbed a glass of milk, and slipped out the porch door. She sighed, happy to be alone-
"Oh, fuck me." she groaned and turned to face Tanu, sitting on the far side of the checkerboard. She threw her balance onto one foot to thrust a hip out, and fixed him with the best "Are you kidding me?" look she could muster as 3am.
"There are many ways I could respond to that, and I won't voice any of them now." He said pointedly as he purposefully took in her appearance. Vanessa felt her face heat up as her words caught up to her.
"Thanks for having mercy on my broken filter." she muttered as she hoisted herself to straddle the porch railing, leaning her back against a support beam. She crossed one leg over the other and returned her gaze to Tanu, inquisitively this time.
"Took a call from my younger sister about 30 minutes ago. Time zones and all."
"You stayed up just to talk to your sister?" he nodded. "Why?"
"Because," he chuckled. "I rarely get to talk to her, and it's always worth waiting up. She makes me laugh, and it feels good to keep in touch with my roots."
"You are a special snowflake, Tanu, I'll give you that." she muttered into her glass. "I'd fork my brothers over to Satan for a single cornchip, and I'm sure they'd return the favor."
He looked concerned. "Do you really mean that?"
She fell silent, and just before the silence became too heavy, she spoke softly.
"No," she whispered, keep her eyes fixed on the stars. "Not on my end at least. But for them, I don't know. Family disappointment and all."
She tried to chuckle, but found a lump in her throat blocking the noise. She cleared her throat aggressively and resumed her silence.
"I understand," his voice was much closer, and as she looked up, she saw he was now leaning over the railing, looking at those same stars. "Not in the same way, or for the same scenario, of course, but I do know what it's like to let down those you love the most. Every time I go home for a holiday or visit or research, and my parents see there's still no ring on this old hand, the lights in their eyes get a little dimmer."
He sighed heavily, and Vanessa felt her hand moving to cover his on the railing as he continued.
"I want to give them the grandkids they want, but I'm not willing to compromise my comfort and lifestyle and boundaries to accommodate their wishes, no matter how much I love them. But I know that they still love me, even if I didn't follow the path they wanted for me."
Vanessa nodded her understanding and sympathies, and was shocked to feel cool dampness on her cheeks as a breeze drifted by. She hurriedly swiped the back of her hand across them, careful to breath through her mouth so as to not sniffle. Tanu glanced at her, and the lack of "poor you" in his eyes cracked her resolve further
"I know what you mean," she chuckled painfully. "God, do I know what you mean."
He sighed, not sadly, but heavily all the same. She found herself echoing it, and the silence that fell between them wasn't quite so heavy. Vanessa found herself suddenly overcome with affection for Tanu, for this man who owed her nothing but listened all the same. She wanted to talk to him, to speak to him. And so she did.
"I still see him, you know." Tanu turned, staring imploringly, but not prying, the weight of the moment not lost on him. Vanessa Santoro didn't share often, so all focus was on her when she did open her mouth.
"Who's 'him'?" he asked gently but firmly. She took a breath that rattled her ribs, steadying her.
"Rhodes." She hadn't said his name in so long, it was like a drug; so bad for you but so addictive. It made her hate him all the more.
"When?" Tanu said, sharper than before. Vanessa could understand, her wording made it seem like they had brunch once a week.
"When I sleep," she started, and saw him deflate with understanding. "When I laugh, when I hike, when I work."
She took a deep breath, feeling her emotions welling up inside her.
"When I'm with Warren."
She spoke so tremblingly low that she wasn't even sure it was her voice that spoke. Tanu put his hand on her shoulder as she tried to steady herself, tried to not explode and cave in all at the same time.
"Am I broken?" she whispered, turning wet eyes to Tanu, searching for the answer in his face. His hand tightened on her shoulder.
"No, Vanessa. You aren't broken. Somethings are just a little scrambled around right now. But this is good. Feeling these things, and recognizing them as issues, and trying to move past them and live a normal life, is a sign that you're more whole than you've ever been."
She nodded, squeezing her eyes shut to dispel the last of her tears.
"I don't think I'll ever have a normal life." she chuckled wryly.
"On this preserve? Fat chance." He scoffed, and they both laughed at that. Silence reined surpreme for another fifteen minutes until Tanu spoke again.
"Do you know constellations?" he asked.
"Not as well as one would assume." she replied neatly.
"Well then," he chuckled. "Let's start with the basics."
Vanessa learned more about the stars in that one night than she ever had in her whole life. The last thing she learned was the constellation Leo, and its significance to the magical world, before she passed out on the railing. When she woke up, she was on the couch in the living room, a blanket tucked around her and the sounds and smells of breakfast wafting in from the kitchen. And when she rose and stretched, and saw Warren round the corner with batter smeared all over his face and sleep clothes, she laughed.
More missions successfully completed, more leaves on the ground. More sleepless nights, more exhausted days. She found herself accompanied by Tanu more and more in the twilight, but sometimes she wandered the house and grounds like a phantom. Once she encountered Kendra, and once Mara, but it was rare she ever had company besides the resident potions master.
It wasn't yet dusk on the preserve, and everything was thriving with wakeful energy. Seth, the satyrs, Kendra, and Bracken were playing football in the backyard. Ruth wasmaking stew for dinner. Stan and Dale had taken some horses to the far end of the preserve around noon and were expected back any minute. Warren, Tanu, and herself were sitting on the porch, alternating between their tasks at hand and the football game.
"C'mon Kens, show those goats how it's done!" Warren shouted, pausing in his whittling to check in on the game.
"Who needs the NFL when you've got this?" Tanu remarked, not even looking up from mincing his ingredients. Vanessa chuckled in agreement, her free hand going for her coffee mug, the other still penning notes on the Brazilian Drumant she had caught just last week. She paused upon finding the mug empty, grunting as she shifted to get up and get more. She stilled when Tanu's hand on her shoulder, and Warren's eyes boring into hers held her in place.
"Ness, I think that's enough coffee. For life. You've drank enough in the past month to make the CEO of Starbucks shit his pants." she tried to hide her smirk at his phrasing, barely succeeding. Damn him for his humor in the face of a borderline intervention.
"I'm with Warren, Vanessa." she whipped around to gaze at Tanu. "You've been running on fumes for too long. It's time to rest."
"Been there, tried that." she quipped, but there wasn't any bite behind it (ha! the irony). She wanted nothing more than to follow their instructions, but at this point she wasn't sure she could. As if reading her mind, Warren resumed speaking.
"It's gonna take time, and it won't be easy. But you have us, now." he gestured to himself and Tanu, then to the kids on the field. "Not him. And we're gonna help. First step is cutting back on coffee." He pried the mug from her fingers.
"Step two," Tanu said, reaching forward and sifting his powder mixture into a small herb bag. "I'm going to give you this to put in some tea every day. It will help ease you mind and muscles." He held out the bag, and she took it after only mild hesitation.
"Step three," Warren rose and stretched, offering his hand to her. "You're going to talk to us, and we're going to talk to you. Therapy, or counseling, or whatever is kind of not practical in our lives. But we have each other. And as the set of young-ish adults we are, we have a responsibility to be the united force behind all this. So let's start, I don't know, uniting. Or not. That sounds far too kinky out loud. You get my drift."
Vanessa laughed lightly, Tanu joining her. Warren rolled his eyes, his hand still out, a smile pulling at his face. She grasped his hand in hers and let herself be pulled to her feet. Tanu rose with her, winking conspiratorially, and nudged her shoulder with his as they stepped off the porch the join the game.
"How do you feel?" he murmured. She took a deep breath, inhaling the crisp air and piecing out her answer before speaking.
"Half." Tanu stared bemusedly at her, waiting for an explanation. "Not whole, yet. No where near it, to be honest. But not broken, not anymore. Could go either way at this point. So, half." Tanu nodded, smiling in his quiet way, as if all was right in the world.
"Half it is."