A/N: Many thanks to everyone who has reviewed or added the story to his/her Favorites/Alerts! It is very much appreciated! I hope you'll enjoy this chapter too!
And of course, many thanks to my beta readers, Laughing Dragoness and Fireflies Glow for their comments and support!
Disclaimer: I own nothing. The Host and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer.
Chapter 2: Shocked
Pregnant. I am pregnant.
The red cross on the pregnancy test was big and clear enough to leave no room for any doubt.
There's a tiny baby inside my belly.
I stared down at my stomach, but it looked exactly as before; nothing seemed different. It was impossible to imagine that there was another life in there, especially in this small, delicate body. I still remembered from my orientation on the species, as well as from the numerous stories circulating excitedly among the See Weeds when the Earth had just been acquired, how complicated human reproduction was. Not only were humans the only known species - besides souls - with live births, but they were also special in that the mothers carried their babies inside their bodies during the gestation period. But this body was so weak, so fragile; would it be able to handle a pregnancy? Would it be able to support another life? Besides, it was so, so young: I only turned eighteen - nineteen for everyone else - a few months ago. And despite the time I had spent in the caves, I still sometimes caught myself missing Cloud Spinner, Pet's mother, and longing for the comfort of her motherly hug. How could I be a mother? Even as a soul, I had been on this planet for just a little more than two years. I had hardly managed to deal with my own needs and feelings - all these powerful, overwhelming human emotions. How could I take care of a child? I often felt like a child myself, still exploring, still trying to understand this strange, but so fascinating world.
Being completely lost in my thoughts, I had forgotten that Melanie was still there until she sat next to me and wrapped her arms around me. I was curled into a ball again, my arms around my legs, my head resting on my knees, but I was small enough for her to hold me in a tight hug.
"Wanda..." She sighed sympathetically and leaned her face in my hair. I was painfully cold, despite her heart-warming embrace; I wanted to cry, to release the tension somehow, to let the worries out of my head before they crushed my mind, but my eyes were too dry, my body too numb.
"Wanda, don't worry," Mel said softly, "it's going to be okay." Her voice, though, lacked the confidence that her words implied. I could tell she was trying to comfort me and I suddenly felt a wave of anger sweeping all over me. Wasn't she supposed to be a good liar? Why was the lie so obvious?
"How?" I cried, "How is it going to be okay? You don't know that! How can I do this? I know nothing about babies!" My voice was shaky, frantic, as I felt the desperation overflowing my heart, overriding the protective barrier of numbness, and I broke down into uncontrollable tears. The poor baby would have a completely incompetent mother. Even worse, its biological mother was practically erased, substituted by a small, silver worm in the back of her head. How much would this child be hurt by finding out that its mother was occupied by an alien, a parasite? A parasite just like the ones that had taken away its world and had condemned it - even before being born! - to a lifetime of hiding in dark caves and running away, a lifetime of fear and agony not to be caught? How much irreversible damage would I cause? How much pain would this child go through because of the conflict between the love for its mother and the hatred for her species? Why, why would it have to suffer?
I was trembling fiercely, struggling to suppress my sobs, while Melanie's hands were rubbing my back encouragingly.
"Wanda," she whispered, oblivious to my terrifying thoughts, "you're not alone. I'll help you, everyone will help. There are so many people here who know enough about babies. And Ian - above all - will support you, I'm sure; don't worry so much. It will be okay."
Ahh, Ian... My heart ached thinking of him. He didn't deserve this. I betrayed his trust. What if he thought I tricked him and got pregnant on purpose? What if he was repelled by me having his baby? I knew he loved me for who I really was, for what I was, even though I found it inconceivable in the beginning. But still, would he want a soul as the mother of his human child?
What if I lose him?
Or even worse, what if he doesn't want the baby?
I swallowed hard at this line of thought. He would have every right to be angry; he didn't choose this.
I'll understand if he decides to leave. I should understand, the shattering of my heart into a million pieces notwithstanding. He had no obligation towards me or the baby - not that I'd want him to stay because of his sense of responsibility. This was by no means his fault, but still, he would have to suffer too.
Was there a way to make it easier for him? Not to have to decide, not to feel obliged to do something he didn't want to do?
I abruptly pulled away from Melanie's hug, as if it was her fault my mind was so disoriented, and crawled on to the bed to lie at the far corner, facing the dark cave wall and trying to squeeze myself into the tiniest space possible.
Melanie let out a weary sigh. "Wanda, sometimes I wish I could still listen to your thoughts." She moved to lie next to me and stroked my hair for a few moments. "What's going on in that silly little head of yours?"
I didn't reply. Sometimes I wished she was still in my head, too. I missed her company, the internal conversations, the mingling of each other's emotions - although not all of them were pleasant. But now I was glad she couldn't hear my thoughts; she would certainly yell at me. My lips turned just a tiny bit upwards imagining her. Oh, Mel, please, try to understand.
Somehow I felt that I had been through this again, not too long ago. The circumstances were completely different, but the internal conflict was just as excruciating: I was causing pain to the people I loved most. Once by depriving Melanie of her own body and freedom, and now by imposing Ian a child he had never thought of having. Back then, I had braced myself to leave for the sake of my human family. But this time...
This time I knew I couldn't do it. Not because I didn't love them enough; not even because I had given my promise to Ian that I would stay. This time, I realized, I cannot leave because I'm not alone any more. There was another life to think of, much more important than mine: the baby's.
An overwhelming wave of protectiveness suddenly came upon me, making my fragile heart beat harder, as these two little words danced in my head. There was nowhere for me to go, for us to go, despite the suffering that would surely await us in the future. I had to stay here, I had to bring my child into the world it belonged to, I had to give it the chance to meet its father, give Ian the chance to meet his child.
My baby, too, is my anchor on this planet. Just like Ian.
Still, there was a decision to be made. A tiny voice in my head echoed painfully loud.
Ian must know.
Of course he should know; I knew it from the very first moment I thought I might be pregnant. And yet, how my heart throbbed thinking of it! What should I say? What words could convey all the things I wanted to share with him - my fears, my hopes, my worries - and still not hurt him, not pressure him into anything?
"Mel?" I whispered. "How... How do I tell Ian?"
Her lips twitched ruefully, but she didn't speak right away. She pulled a strand of my hair and let it slide between her fingers.
"There's no easy way. Just tell him, fast and straight."
Fast and straight. Right... Ah, Mel, if only I were you...
x x x
It was getting late and people would soon return from their chores, when I suddenly remembered I hadn't finished the dishes that I was assigned to wash today. I rushed back to the stream, where I had left them earlier this afternoon, hardly half of them done, to finish them off; I'd just make it for dinner time. Of course, Melanie tagged along, insisting to help, too worried to leave me alone.
"You need to be more careful now," she stressed over and over again.
I was touched by her tenderness; she had spent all afternoon hugging me and patting me encouragingly, constantly reassuring me that everything would turn out well. It was so not like her. Her patience surprised me, but then again, I had probably alarmed her; I had hardly spoken after my initial crying out, too distracted by the thousands of thoughts floating in my mind. I didn't know what to reply anyway. I wished, too, with all my heart that things would work out, but that was far from enough to relieve my worries.
We were on our way to the kitchen, Melanie stubbornly carrying the heavy load of dishes on her own, when I realized that I would soon see Ian. My heart pumped faster with a mixture of nervousness and anticipation; I had missed him - I hadn't seen him since early morning - but at the same time I was terrified he would notice my anxiety and start questioning me. And I still didn't know what to tell him.
I grabbed Melanie's arm. "Don't say anything yet."
She grimaced, pausing for a moment. "Okay. But you need to tell Ian soon."
The kitchen was crowded when we finally arrived. Ian and Jared were there, too, standing next to the counter. They looked like they were discussing, but they stopped abruptly when they saw us. Ian smiled at me, but then noticed that Melanie was carrying my load and frowned.
"Finally!" Jared exhaled. "We were about to come looking for you."
"We're fine," Melanie replied, a bit too quickly, as she handed the dishes to Ian. "We were talking and didn't realize we were late."
"Lily realized it pretty well! You left her all alone!" Jared scolded her, but then his hand slipped around her waist and dragged her to him. "You should have told us," he complained, giving her a light kiss on the lips.
Ian wrapped his arm around me and kissed the top of my head. "Are you okay?" he asked in a concerned voice, lifting my chin with his hand to take a better look at me.
My eyes fell to the ground and I felt my cheeks coloring, realizing that Jared had told him I had asked Melanie for help. "I'm fine," I mumbled and buried my face in his chest. After all the agony of the afternoon, it felt good to be in his arms again, even if things were bound to change soon.
"Were the dishes too heavy? Why didn't you come to me?"
"Hey, I can help her too!" Melanie interrupted, slightly defensive, before I could say anything. "Besides, we wanted to talk alone for a change, you two are always on our heels!"
Both Ian and Jared jumped slightly back in surprise. "Okay," Ian said, lifting his free hand in surrender, while Jared laughed. This seemed to cut them off, as they didn't say anything else and we moved on with our dinner. Fortunately, Jamie joined us soon and as usual, never stopped talking, keeping the mood on the table light as he rambled on about his homework and Sharon's latest detention. It was a relaxing break from the anxiety that haunted me all day. Still, I was probably more quiet than usual, since I could feel both Ian's and Mel's eyes checking on me from time to time.
"Wanda, will you tell us about the dolphins tonight?" Jamie asked cheerfully once we were done eating. After all this time talking again and again about the different planets, I was pretty sure I had described everything in much more detail that I could have ever imagined. But Jamie's curiosity never failed to impress me; he always had more questions to ask.
I smiled as my hand went through his messy hair. "What do you want to know, Jamie?" I asked in a tender voice. It was so difficult to deny him anything and for the shortest moment I couldn't help but wonder if that would be the case for the baby in my belly as well.
"How did you manage to conquer them?"
I stiffened for a second; I never liked talking about how souls opened new worlds. I could never avoid a feel of guilt creeping in my chest. I got up and moved towards the fire that Trudy had already lit up to prepare for tonight's baking. Keeping my hands busy with the rolls would give me some time to think how to respond to Jamie's question without reminding everybody the story of their defeat.
Melanie didn't agree with this plan though.
"Wanda, I'll help with the baking today," she said matter-of-factly, looking at me pointedly. "I didn't do much work this afternoon," she added, shooting a glare at Jared - who rolled his eyes in response - and took my place at the counter next to the oven.
"Okay," I agreed quietly and turned to sit next to Ian. I only then realized that Ian was watching us carefully: his lips were pursed into a thin line, his eyes narrowed, trying to decipher the silent exchange between Mel and me that he had most certainly witnessed. I wished she had been more careful; I was afraid that Ian would start asking questions again, but he smiled, relaxing his expression, as soon as he saw me looking at him. He grabbed my hand and pulled me on his lap, wrapping his arms around me as I rested my back on his chest.
"If you're not feeling well, we should go," he murmured, leaning to my ear. "You don't have to teach every day."
"I'm fine," I reassured him. It wasn't a complete lie; this informal teaching helped me advert my thoughts to something less stressful, even if today's topic was not my favorite. Plus, I got to enjoy the warmth of Ian's secure embrace, without worrying how to announce to him that he would soon be a father.
The class didn't last long though. As expected, few people were interested in the conquering triumphs of our kind. Jeb asked some questions, Doc a couple medical ones, but the rest were quiet. Ian wasn't speaking either, but I knew he was listening carefully. He had his hands in mine and I enjoyed playing with them - drawing random patterns on his palms, feeling his calluses from the strenuous work on the field - while thinking on the questions that were being asked.
By the time baking was finished, most people had withdrawn already. The last of us - Trudy with Geoffrey; Mel, Jared and a half-asleep Jamie; Ian and me - walked together towards our rooms, strolling quietly in the dark corridors.
When we arrived in front of Ian's and my room, Mel pulled me in a tight goodnight hug.
"It's going to be fine, just tell him!" she whispered quickly in my ear before letting me go. I nodded, giving her a reassuring smile, trying to ease her concern. Not that I was feeling more confident than before; on the contrary, I could feel the tension building up once again in my chest as the time Ian and I would be alone approached. But there was no need for her to worry as well.
My heart was beating wildly as Ian and I entered our room; I could hear the blood pounding in my ears, but I tried to control my nervousness. Ian was silent and I hoped that he was tired enough not to fancy a late night conversation. I was exhausted, too, feeling completely drained by the events of the day and I yearned for being in his arms again. The weight of the pending news made everything look temporary - was this our last night together, the last time in his arms?
"So... " Ian said quietly once I settled in his warm embrace, "will you tell me what happened today?"
Suddenly, I was alarmingly tense.
"Wha - What happened? Nothing!" I answered in a panicking voice that was far than persuading, even to me.
"Right," Ian exhaled and I could hear the smile in his voice. "You're still an appalling liar, you know that?"
"Nothing happened," I insisted, much more calmly. I was better when I was not taken aback. Maybe I could lead this discussion to an end before it was too late.
"Then why did Melanie do your chores?"
"I-I don't know. She wanted to. You do the same all the time."
He laughed at this. "That's true. But the difference is that you always complain and cling on my arm to get back the dishes or whatever it is I'm carrying. This time you didn't even protest, not even once!"
"Do you want me to complain?" I challenged.
"No! Wanda..." Ian sighed as he turned around to face me, even if it was too dark to see me. He placed his palm on my cheek, pushing back some stray strands of hair. "It's time for you to accept that people want to do things for you. But you were not yourself tonight. And Melanie kept watching you all evening like you were about to break."
He sighed again and I was sure he was rolling his eyes in the dark. I knew he had noticed something was off in our behavior, but now it was too late; here we were, having the exact conversation I was hoping to avoid all evening.
"Wanda..." Ian trailed off, running a thumb on my cheek. "Honey, did you overwork yourself again? Did you pass out?"
It took me a few moments to realize what he was saying. Oblivious of my birth control failure, it was normal for him to assume that Mel's sudden protectiveness were due to another fainting episode from exhaustion. It had been a long time since the last one, but he stubbornly refused to forget.
"No, no, I'm fine, really fine!"
I remained silent, having run out of eluding answers. He had me cornered and a tiny voice in my head kept repeating annoyingly: I must tell him. I must tell him. I must tell him.
A fierce, involuntary shiver ran across my body.
Ian felt it too, because he immediately pulled me to him, wrapping his arms tightly around me.
"Hey, I didn't mean to upset you. It's okay, don't tell me if you don't want to."
I buried my face in the crook of his neck. I had to tell him, but it wouldn't hurt waiting a little bit more, would it? Just for one more night. One last night.
"Can we talk about this tomorrow?" I whispered.
"Sure," he replied, but a hint of worry leaked in his voice. He kissed me softly on the temple and turned us over, in our usual sleeping position. "Get some rest."
I rested my head on his chest and tried to calm myself listening to the steady beating of his heart. I was afraid to fall asleep, worried that the next day would arrive way too soon.
And what would I tell him then?