AN: I'm so sorry to all of you who have been waiting for this chapter. Life got…demanding I guess is the best word. I do plan to finish this (there are only two or three chapters left – depending on how much more I'm inspired).
FYI – I'm going on vacation and make no promises to read reviews and such, but I do promise to reply when I get back. Caribbean, here I come!!!
And of course, a bajillion thanks to my betas: bookish327 and Elessar1201. The two of them somehow beta'd this entire chapter in less than 24 hours. You go, girls!
Oh yeah. I own nothing. Stephenie Meyer owns everything.
After the Seekers and Healers left, I settled back on the lumpy hospital bed. There was nothing to do now but wait until the hospital was quiet enough for me to sneak out. Jared and Melanie had given me forty-eight hours before they would head back to the caves, probably to blockade them. Or maybe even evacuate. They would have to leave, because the Seekers would surely come after them. Where would they go? So many people could get hurt because of me.
I was so afraid. All I could think about was the possibility and consequence of failure. I was terrified for myself, Ian, and all of my human family. Everyone would be forced out of their home, made to go back to the life of a vagabond, scavenging for food and shelter.
The stress was enough that I expected my body to be in lockdown. Were I still in Pet's body, I was sure I'd be nauseated and shaking from distress. However, I wasn't in Pet's body, I was in Ian's, and Ian's body knew how to deal with terror. I was alert, tense. It was a strange contrast, the fear with the vigilance. Ian wasn't as perfectly controlled in stressful situations as Jared, but he was infinitely better than I was. I was sure that he could handle the current situation without much problem.
Yes, he could handle it, but I wasn't getting any help from him. He still refused to talk to me. He was hunkered down inside his steel fortress of a mind.
Please, Ian. Please don't do this. I don't think I can get out of here on my own. I need you.
Without Ian's help, I didn't know what to do. I knew I needed to get out of the hospital, but I didn't know anything about sneaking around. I remembered a few things from Melanie's life prior to meeting Jared, but my entire existence was based in a world of open, honest, and caring souls. I couldn't handle anything else on my own.
I stood up and started pacing. Back and forth I walked across the room, pausing every now and then to look out the window. It was still full light outside, and cars passed by every few seconds. I took a good look around for the first time. The town was small, with what looked like a small shopping district on the way to the residential area full of houses. I wondered where Jared and Melanie were right now. They might be keeping a close eye on the building for any suspicious activity, or maybe they were just waiting for me by the smokestacks that I could see in the distance.
I wanted so much to go find them right now. I felt so alone here, with Ian treating me like an enemy. I took deep breaths so that I wouldn't cry, but my situation began to look more hopeless by the minute. What I really needed was some comfort. Had we been home, Ian would have pulled me tight into his chest while I curled into a ball and cried. I sat back down on the bed and tried to curl up by pulling my legs into my chest and wrapping my huge arms around myself. The movement felt strange; it was not a position Ian was used to sitting in.
I rocked myself a little and tried to sort out what needed to be done. I hoped that concentrating on actual actions would calm me down. Instead, fear began escalating into panic.
Did I really think I could do this? Sneak out of a medical center in the middle of a populated city carrying a small girl in my arms? And when I got caught, then what? I would have given them both Ian and myself. I'd be shipped off the planet, almost certainly. They'd know I had lied to them. Ian would be killed. And then a real Seeker would be put in Pet's body. It was fragile, with no defenses. They'd see my memories, and know everything about Jared, Melanie, Jamie, and the others. The entire colony would be gone because I couldn't be strong and let Ian go.
That was really what it came down to. After nine lives, I had finally found my partner, and I wasn't giving him up without a fight.
My partner. That was a happier thought. I closed my eyes and rested my head on my knees while breathing deeply from Ian's scent. It was so strange how the smell of the body I was controlling calmed me down almost immediately. It reminded me of a happier time from not long ago.
"Here, I've got that."
"It's not that heavy."
"For me. For you, I think it would take your arms off."
I pouted. Ian just winked at me and took the bundle of shovels I had been trying to carry to the storage room. The truth was, they had been awkward in my small arms, and I had red marks from the strain.
"Don't push yourself, Wanda. You're going to get yourself hurt."
"But I want to help."
Ian shifted the weight of his load to one arm, pulled one of the shovels out of the bag, and handed it to me.
"There. You're helping."
I grumbled a bit but otherwise let him lead down the hallway to the storage room. After depositing the shovels, we cleaned up in the river room before heading to dinner.
On the way back, I brought up my favorite argument again.
"We're starting to run out of soap," I said vaguely.
Ian instantly knew where I was heading but didn't favor me with a reply. The only evidence that he had even heard me was that his fingers tightened slightly around mine.
I trudged on. "Pasta, too. And the flour won't last much longer, either. We can't keep putting it off."
"You're not going, Wanda."
"But why? Ian, this is what I'm good at."
"Maybe Sunny could go."
I snorted. "She'd be scared stiff. I doubt we'll even get her to let Kyle go."
"I don't want you out there, Wanda." His voice was rough, like he was holding back some strong emotion. It almost sound like fear was layered over the usual confidence of his voice. What could possibly make Ian O'Shea afraid of a raid?
I stopped just before the entrance to the common room, pulling him to face me. No matter what the reason was for his fear, I had to reassure him. "It will be fine," I said soothingly.
He looked straight into my eyes, the blue in his eyes was deep, earnest and fearful; the intensity of it held me in place. "I just got you back," he said, quiet as a whisper. "Can't we have some time before throwing ourselves back into danger?"
"Ian..." I pleaded.
He didn't let me finish. He cupped his hand under my chin and pulled my face up to meet his. It was a short, sweet kiss. It sent shivers up my spine and put butterflies in my stomach.
"There," he whispered. "Hungry?"
The argument wasn't over – yet – but dinner seemed like a good idea.
Ian took my hand and led me to the kitchen, where most people were already finishing up. To my surprise, I saw Jamie in the back, cleaning the oven. He didn't usually have kitchen duty.
"Jamie? What are you doing?"
He pulled a dirty head out of the oven to smile at me. "Hey, Wanda, Ian. I got detention." He seemed almost cheered by this idea.
Ian chuckled. "What for?"
"Talking back," Jamie answered, smiling wider. "I told Sharon she was working the algebra problem wrong, and she didn't like the fact that I was right."
Ian laughed even harder, but I scowled. It wasn't right that Jamie should get in trouble for being smart. I had a feeling Sharon did it partly to get to me, and that made me feel guilty. Jamie shouldn't get more work because Sharon hated me so much.
"Don't worry about it, Wanda. I don't mind cleaning, and it was worth it to see Sharon's face."
I decided to let it drop for now but was determined to find a way to correct the situation later. Ian and I grabbed plates of corn, beans, rolls, a bag of chips, and a candy bar before taking seats in the dining area. The only people left were Doc, Sharon, and Maggie. Doc would have come to talk with us, but Sharon was monopolizing his attention while keeping an eye on Jamie.
"I guess we took pretty long, huh?" I said, looking around the empty room.
Ian shrugged. "That dirt needed to be aired; we had to make sure we finished."
"But it would have taken half as much time if I wasn't so slow." It was insanely frustrating sometimes to be in this weak body.
"You're doing a great job," he said with a smile. "It's not your fault Jamie picked a little body. Personally, I think it's perfect."
"Hmm..." I grumbled but didn't argue further as we finished our meal and headed into the hallway.
There was a small exodus occurring in the common room. The mass of people was trickling out of the hall leading to the game room, most carrying bedding.
I walked over to intercept Jared and Melanie, who were both hauling their double mattress.
"Mel? What's going on?" I asked.
"It hasn't rained in three weeks," she answered. "We're taking our chances and quitting that community sleeping hole." She winked at me. I knew that Melanie had thought the public sleeping arrangement less than desirable.
Ian came up behind me. "You aren't worried about getting wet?"
"We'll survive" Jared declared. "Come on, Mel." Jared was trying to hide his smile, but I had a pretty good idea what he was thinking.
Suddenly, I was very nervous. I started breathing heavily and my palms got sweaty. I had a hard time looking up to Ian as he asked, "What do you think, Wanda?"
My eyes followed Paige and Andy as they made their way up the hallway; they too seemed relieved to have privacy again. "Um...yeah."
What could I say to him? I had known that sometime soon the rains would end and then Ian and I would relocate to our own room, but somehow the prospect seemed terrifying now. I didn't feel ready to take that step. Did he? We hadn't really talked about it. I knew nothing of Ian's history, and I was suddenly obsessed with it. What was he used to? What would he think of this young, fragile body?
How could I have let this happen to myself? It was barely two months ago that I felt hindered by the public sleeping area, just like Melanie. But leaving it was taking a step into the unknown, and I didn't know what to do.
Ian took my hand carefully and I hoped he didn't notice that it was clammy. He must have felt the tension that I did, for we barely spoke or looked at each other as we carried our bedding from the game room to the room with the red and gray doors.
He placed the mattress on the floor, and I followed it with the pillows and blanket. Then we stood there.
After a moment, I swallowed loudly and forced myself to look up at Ian's face. He was watching me closely.
"Wanda? Are you okay?"
I nodded, unable to speak.
He reached his hand out to cup my cheek, his eyes penetrating mine.
"Wanda, it's all right, we...don't have to do anything tonight."
"No, Ian, I...I'm sorry, I've just...never done this before." My memories of Melanie's memories didn't count.
He smiled at me. "It's okay. I understand. Come on, you're tired." He started to pull me to the bed, clearly thinking all we would do was sleep.
He was missing the point. It wasn't that I didn't want to love him, I just didn't know how. Reaching for that desire to show him how much he meant to me, I started with what I knew, reaching up to pull him down to kiss me. When I thought he might pull away, I ran my tongue along his bottom lip. He still pulled away but looked at me with surprise.
"Wanda, are you sure you want to do this?"
I nodded. "Yes, just..." How did I convey my fears to him?
"Don't be afraid," he answered. Ian always somehow knew what I was thinking. "I will be very gentle."
My stomach was full of butterflies again, but not the kind to make me shy, the kind to warm my skin all the way down into my bones. Knowing that Ian understood made my fears go away.
I stretched slowly onto my tiptoes and kissed him softly. He responded by stroking my cheek with one hand, while the other moved to the small of my back, pulling me closer to him.
After a long moment, his hands moved, one to tangle in my hair, while the other sneaked slowly under my shirt to rub my back. Completely of their own accord, my hands removed themselves from his neck, tracing their way down his chest to the hem of his shirt. I think I had intended to simply mimic his massaging of my back, but Ian surprised me by pulling away just long enough for me to take off his shirt.
I wasn't sure who did it, but one of us removed my shirt as well so that it could join his on the floor.
Ian's hands pulled me close again, but instead of kissing my lips, his mouth moved down my neck and across to the tip of my shoulder. His ear was right next to my face, and I took the opportunity to whisper to him.
"I love you." It was all I could think to say.
He moved slowly to look me in the eyes. His midnight eyes were on fire in a way I had never seen before. They were excited, tender, and joyful all at the same time.
"I love you," he told me, and a huge smile spread across my face before he lowered me gently to the mattress.
I woke up at some point in the middle of the night. I could just barely see three stars through the tiny hole in the ceiling. Ian was, of course, sprawled out across our tiny mattress, and I was curled up with my head on his bare chest.
I had never been so perfectly comfortable in all of my ten lives. My eyes closed as I breathed deeply, taking in Ian's scent mixed with the creosote that lingered in the air.
I ran my hands along the skin of his stomach, turning to look at his face. It was peaceful in sleep. Somehow, in the midst of everything, the two of us had found joy in each other. Smiling at him, I placed a small kiss on his chest.
He stirred, his eyes blinking open as his arms came around me.
"Sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to wake you up."
Ian smiled up at me. "I don't mind at all. Is everything all right?"
"Perfect," I answered. It wasn't completely a lie; things were perfect, despite the soreness I could feel that had nothing to do with gardening.
Ian moved his hands to my shoulders and then traced his fingers down my sides, past my waist, and across my thighs. I shivered at his touch as he leaned in to kiss me.
Again? I thought. Well, if he didn't object, I certainly wasn't going to. I might be a bit sore, but it would be worth it. It looked like we might miss breakfast in the morning. I silently prayed that Jamie would be smart enough to not come looking for us.
The memory had to end somewhere, and I was disappointed to have to return to the empty hospital room. I was unwilling to open my eyes to what I knew were unpleasant surroundings. The cool air from the air conditioner and the stiff sheets on the mattress reminded me that I wasn't home and that dreaming of the caves would not be enough to take me there. However, the memory had served its purpose of calming my nerves, so I turned my thoughts to the task at hand: saving Ian's life.