Okay, this chapter is really long, but I wanted to give Melanie her due. She's an interesting character, and we haven't heard her speak outside Wanda's perspective ever. Sorry for the delay... enjoy! :)
P.S.: I've put a few lines in bold. That is when the POV changes to either Nina or her Soul. It is confusing, I'll admit.
Chapter 4: Dual- Nina
Spinning. The world is spinning around me. Where am I? I don't know. All I know is that the place is filled with eerie blue light, which only makes the spinning worse. I feel queasy, nauseous. Not to mention the horrid throbbing ache in the back of my head. I can hear a confusing jumble of whispers and echoed voices, and- in between- laughter.
This feels surreal.
I hear footsteps somewhere close by. I cannot tell how many people they belong to, the sounds echo too much. Instead, I wait.
The murky grey nothingness spinning above me is losing momentum. It's only a matter of time before it stops spinning completely. All I need to do is wait.
Finally, the spinning recedes, slowly. The world decides it is better being stationary after all. I groan, partly to let out the pain in me, partly to make sure I still have my voice. I'm satisfied to learn that I haven't lost my voice, thank goodness. I blink a little rapidly, trying to get my bearings clear. I am lying on a not-too-soft bed. I am looking up at the most peculiar ceiling I have ever seen. Murky dark, definitely uneven, I cannot imagine what sort of a roof this place has. I twitch my muscles a little, trying to move them, and hoping I haven't broken anything. Again, I'm glad to note I haven't.
I need to find out what this place is. The eerie blue light is creeping me out, and I'm getting more frightened by the minute. Fist things first, how did I get here? I search my mind slowly, patiently, hoping to remember something. I frown with the effort.
Then it all comes back to me in a rush.
I jerk upright with a sudden movement. And find myself face-to-face with Melanie Stryder.
Only she isn't Stryder anymore, I remember. Some other name…
"How's your head?"-she asks slowly, gently.
"Painful." I say slowly, trying to put in as much irritation as I can into that one word.
She nods comprehendingly. "Jared hit you a little hard."
Jared! That's the name- her husband. I frown again, wrapping my mind around the word, finding it strange to associate it with her.
She watches me for a moment, then asks, "How's Nina?"
I search within my head. I can feel Nina stirring, just as uncomfortable as I am right now.
"The same." I say coldly, emotions seeping into my voice more easily.
Melanie seems unfazed by my obvious irritation. "Can I talk to her?"
"Call it a reunion, if you will. We haven't talked since years."
At that moment Nina bursts into awareness. "I will talk to you. Go away," she adds in a harsh aside to me.
"No." I say firmly.
Melanie interrupts us. "Just for a while. Please?"
"You don't have to ask her!"-Nina says hotly. And within my head a battle rages between us. Give me my body! - Nina screeches. And she jabs me with her thoughts- sharp, edged, single-minded thoughts. I fight back, almost feeling my appendages inside her head tighten. I have a dimly acknowledged image of Melanie staring at us anxiously. The concern and fear in her eyes throws me for a split second. That is all that Nina needs. With incredible strength, her sharp thoughts are pushing me back into myself. Suddenly, I cannot see. My eyes are not mine anymore. I can't feel my arms and legs. I can only barely register the beat of my heart, and a slow hum of pulsing thoughts which are Nina's.
I know my body isn't mine now. It is Nina's. And before I know it, my thoughts are flowing in the same direction as hers- I am Nina.
"Melanie!"-I gasp- a half cry, a half sob, and reach for her.
"Nina." Our embrace is quick, warm, and full of years' worth of fondness.
"Where am I?"
She lets me go slowly, my hands still in hers. "You're in the last human outpost on Occupied Earth."
"A cave system in the desert, somewhere near Tucson."
"Wow." I mutter. "How many of you are there?"
"Dozens." She grins. "You'll know everyone soon enough."
I sigh contentedly. "Good."
"What?" I ask breathlessly, still finding it hard to believe that I'm talking to her- someone so close to me from my past.
"How do you do it?"
"Push her away."
I think for a moment. "It isn't easy."
"I know."-she agrees feelingly.
"It gives me a mighty headache every time," I sigh, massaging my brow.
Melanie is still staring at me curiously. "But what do you do?"
I search for words, and fail. "It's hard to explain- you wouldn't understand, you don't have a leech inside of you." I say bitterly.
Melanie grins. "Actually I know exactly how it feels. I had one."
I stare at her. "Had?"
"You met Wanda."
"The soul with us. Golden hair. Angelic face."
I continue to stare at her, my mouth forming noiseless words. "I don't understand," I blabber finally.
"Wanda was the soul inserted into me when I got caught. She brought me back to Jamie and Jared, and then gave my body back."
"What do you mean, gave it back?"
Melanie sighs, frustrated. "She had herself removed."
For a moment, I am stunned. One of the parasites gave itself up, voluntarily?
"Th-then why is she still with you?"
"Because she didn't want to leave. And we didn't want her to leave. Her family is here."
"She's one of you?" I ask, shocked. I simply cannot bring myself to understand the concept.
"Of course." Melanie answers easily. Then she sees the obvious shock on my face, and adds, "She's a gem, Neens. A kind, caring, loyal, and loving soul. She's my sister."- she ends softly. I can see it in her eyes. She loves her, truly.
"But Melly. She's- she's…"
"How can I explain it?"-Melanie cuts in. "She was in my head. We shared our thoughts, our dreams, our fears, our hopes… can you imagine how close that bond would have been? What am I saying, of course you can. She helped me get back to my family. To the people I truly love. And then she nearly killed herself to give me, as a whole person, to them. To give me back to my family. How could I not love her? How could she not be my soul sister?"
I listen, awed. It's just incomprehensible that a Parasite would do so much.
For a split second, my thoughts flare out. Of course it's possible. We Souls are a kind and considerate lot! Then Nina's thoughts overpower me again, and once again, I am her.
"So… a lot has happened to you." I say finally, breaking the silence that has descended upon us after Melanie's outburst.
She nods. "A whole lifetime's worth." A smile alights on her face.
"You look… nice." I observe. She does indeed. I remember the tall, lanky, sunburned, awkward teenager, and I look at this tall, sunburned, confident, beautiful young woman, and somehow find it able to connect the two images together, however different she looks now. Her hazel eyes are sparkling more than ever, as though some of the silver from her body's recent inmate are left over. Her long dark hair is falling in shimmering waves on and off her shoulder. Her smile has a wry, been-there-done-that twist, but it only makes it more attractive. Somehow, I like this new Melanie.
"Thanks. Have to, considering I'm a blooming bride." She chuckles.
She cocks her head and looks at me. "Wondering why I did it?"
"Actually, I am." I admit.
"I know. It wasn't really necessary. Me and Jared have been together for a very long time… and all this time we didn't really bother about any sort of formalities. But we did it mostly for Wanda. She was curious. Apparently, the Souls don't take in with weddings. And for Jamie. And for everyone else. The people here could use something to cheer about."
"So you're sure about him…"
"Sure about him?" She snorts. "Jared and I have been through lots of things. Even while Wanda…" Her forehead creases, as she remembers. "It wasn't… easy. At first, I had to fight her. I thought… naturally what every human thinks about a Soul. And then she started to help me. And then we found Jared." She pauses, with a shudder. "It wasn't easy. No one trusted us. You will not believe the number of times we got hit. And then she fell in love with Jared-"
"What?"- I interrupt. A Soul fell in love? With a human?
She smiles wanly. "Trust me, I couldn't believe it at first either. Then again, all I thought about, dreamt about, was him. She loved him before she even saw him."
I don't say anything. Since all I can possibly do is stutter and mouth wordlessly, I might as well keep my mouth shut.
"She loves Jamie, too. Like I do. Like an older sister."
She laughs at the expression on my face. "Get used to it, Neens. Wanda's an angel. Anyway, she's got her own man now. You saw Ian."
I remember the handsome, grave man, and his protective stance around the girl, Wanda. An involuntary shiver runs down my spine.
"Tall, quiet fellow?"
"That's the one. Not really quiet, but it works for him."
"He's in love with- Wanda?" I say the name for the first time, feeling rather strange as I do so.
"Yes. And she with him. They're wonderful together."
"Hmm." Non-committal again.
She laughs again. "You should meet her. Then you'll know."
"I guess so." I shrug.
"So will you talk to her? Now?"
"Now?" I am alarmed.
"Well… atleast let your Soul talk."
I stiffen up. "Why?"
Melanie pauses for a moment before answering. "You've had your reunion. Shouldn't she have hers?"
I hesitate for a moment. "Fine." I sigh.
I can feel myself shudder. Suddenly I am no longer Nina. I am just her Soul.
You wait till Melly leaves!- Nina hisses at me in my head.
Melanie is staring at us. "She's back."
Nina nods curtly.
A little ill at ease, Melanie jumps off the cot next to me and gives Nina another quick warm hug. "It's wonderful to see you again Nina."
"You too, Melly."
She turns as if to leave, and then pauses. "What's her name?"- she asks, turning back to us.
"Whose?"- Nina is startled.
Nina hesitates. Tell her. I scoff at her.
"I don't know."-she admits.
Melanie's eyes widen. "How long has it been since… she was inserted into you?"
Nina bends her head. "Five years," she mumbles.
There is a pause.
"There's something I always wanted to tell you, Nina. Even back then, all those years ago." Melanie says finally.
Nina looks up hopefully. "Yes?"
"Learn to compromise."
Nina winces as if struck. She lowers her head again.
In the silence succeeding Melanie's fading footsteps; I can feel Nina's strong sharp-ended walls in my head suddenly recede. With much relief, I relinquish my hold over my body.
"Our body," Nina mutters.
I don't answer her. I know she is still hurt by what Melanie told her.
There are several minutes of silence, with us staring at the uneven rocky floor.
"What is your name?" Nina asks suddenly.
I wait for a moment. I realize she really is curious, then answer her slowly.
"Sees in the Night."
"Sees in the Night."- she repeats slowly.
We were both quiet for a moment. Then- "What were you, an owl?"
The sudden humour makes us both laugh, and we are still laughing when Wanda enters the cave.