(A/N: This is the last chapter I've written, so far, but not the last one in the fic. Just to tell you, this one's gone sort of on hold for the time. My apologies. *grin* Glad to know, though, that Salak's not the only one who's reading this crap.)
"Guess who!" Bad move, Jander knew, almost before he did it. He could immediately smell her burst of fear as she stiffened and hunched slightly, as if expecting a blow. Jander immediately dropped his hands from where they were loosely clasped over her eyes and moved up to walk beside her. Eckerd was, of course, back a ways, investigating something. Sometimes, Jander wondered if the mage was really a five-year-old in a grown man's body.
"Sorry," Jander apologized as he took his pack and slung an arm over her shoulders.
Pa'das looked at him curiously. She was quite certain she had down nothing to betray her feelings when he did that, so what could he be talking about?
Jander tapped his nose knowingly. "Nose of a wolf, which means I can smell the fear."
Pa'das blushed slightly. "Sorry. But, you have to understand, everything he did to me involved pain, and some things were painfuller than most." She looked at Jander with pleading eyes, begging him to understand. He was only too happy to comply.
"No," he said gently, "it was one of those things I should have known not to do." He ruffled her hair lovingly as her fear disappeared. "So, what is Eckerd looking at now? Shouldn't he be more concerned about moving faster?" Although it hadn't taken Jander an overly short time to catch up to them, it hadn't taken him an overly long time, either. If his blow hadn't scared Davie off, the boy could still come after them.
Pa'das shrugged and grinned, easily falling into the rhythm of walking so close to another person. "You know Eckerd - his mind is never on one thing for more than a few moments."
Jander returned the grin. This was the most Pa'das had said in a tenday.
"Jander! What ho! Where did you come from?" Eckerd had noticed Jander was back.
"Jander looked at Pa'das and then back at Eckerd. "What ho?"
"Eckerd nodded. "What ho."
Jander just shook his head and grinned.
"So, did it work?"
Jander shrugged. "I don't know. I left him there and made haste for you."
"Mare haste?" Eckerd mocked him.
"If you can say 'what ho', I can say 'made haste'. Fair is fair."
Pa'das laughed at the two of them. "If this keeps up, nobody will be able to understand you, Eckerd, and everybody will think that you're a stuck-up elf, Jander."
They all enjoyed a resounding laugh. They walked in companionable silence for a while, passing Korrieana back and forth between them. It was the 'pass-around game', where she would reach for one person, and as soon as that person took her, reach for the next. It was great fun for her, and provided much comic relief for the adults.
They made camp when Eckerd started to yawn and stumble. He told them specifically before going to bed, "If any of you wake me up before I wake myself up, I will personally rend that person limb from limb with my bare hands."
Pa'das and Jander shared a mischievous look.
"I saw that. Don't you dare wake me up."
The two rolled their eyes simultaneously. They moved away from where Eckerd was trying to sleep so their talk would not disturb him. Korrieana toddled over to Jander and reached to be picked up, settling to go to sleep in his arms. He and Pa'das grinned at each other.
"Ah, to be back on the open road," Jander sighed. Pa'das nodded mutely, and he continued. "Where's Soorefina? I haven't seen her all day?"
Pa'das shrugged as she sent out a mental call for the cat. "She's been following us far behind, making sure no one is trying to track us."
Jander smiled as Pa'das yawned. "Looks like Eckerd's not the only tired one. Bedtime?"
Pa'das nodded and smiled slightly. Jander gave her a goodnight kiss, and would have stayed where he was, rocking Korrieana, except Pa'das drew her hand across his arm as she walked by, catching it slightly before her arm dropped to her side. It might have been an accident, but he caught the wistful, pleading look on her face which she quickly hid, and followed her to their bedrolls, lying down next to her. Just as the night before, she snuggled between his arm and his side. This time, Korrieana was nestled between them. Jander was semi-amazed at just how important the little things - like his body next to hers as she was falling asleep - were to her. Then he laughed silently to himself. He was a fine one to talk - even littler things, like holding her hand, were just as important to him. If he had the courage, he would probably be doing many of the same things as her. But, Pa'das was the first real, constant contact he'd had with a living female for centuries, and he didn't want to screw it up.
"Good night, my sweet," he whispered into the night.
* * * * *
Over the next five days, a gentle touch and even gentler words from Jander and Eckerd brought back the old Pa'das. Before the tenday was out, the four of them (including Soorefina) were back to attacking each other at random for impromptu wrestling matches. Soorefina was back the next morning, saying that Davie had gone back through the gates of Corostine. So, they did not bother to watch for him anymore.
At one point, late at night when Pa'das was asleep, Eckerd made the comment that he wished Davie could have come with them. Jander looked at him for a moment, then retold what had happened that day after Eckerd had left. When he was finished, Eckerd stared at him in shock.
"I give up," Eckerd said, throwing up his hands. "There is no good in that town whatsoever. Did all the perverted sexists in Faerûn decide to come and live in one town? And how can such horrible people be so nice?" Eckerd was so frustrated, he was… frustrated.
Jander shrugged. "I do not know, my friend. I do not know."
"It's just disturbing. Very disturbing. Don't you agree?"
Jander nodded. Anybody who acted like that disturbed him. He understood all too well how those they targeted felt.
It took about a tenday to reach the next town they would stay in. Jander and Eckerd made the executive decision to skirt a few towns. They were too close to Corostine for the two of them to think Pa'das would feel comfortable. Soorefina agreed with them.
The only inn was The Sign of the Red Dragon. Jander was, of course, renting rooms with Pa'das as Eckerd wandered around, chatting with random people.
"Thr-" Jander glanced at Pa'das, "no, two rooms."
"Foller me." The bartender, a dwarf, jumped off the stool he was standing on and stumped out from behind the counter.
"Eckerd!" Pa'das yelled. "Stop flirting and come see where your room is! In case you want to use it later!"
"I resent that! Please excuse me, ladies."
"Well?" the surly dwarf grumbled. The three friends followed as the dwarf stomped off. Jander heard him mutter, "A stinkin' elf. Great. That's all I need. Here ye are," he said louder to them as he stopped in front of two doors.
"Thank you," Jander said, nodding politely to the dwarf. Age-old enemies, yes, but Jander would be damned if he was going to treat even a dwarf as beneath him. Of course, being what he was, nothing was beneath him, he was the lowest of the low.
The dwarf grumbled something and stumped back down the stairs. Eckerd dropped his pack in his room and went right back to the table of women he was busy charming. Jander and Pa'das looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Jander held the door open for Pa'das, always the gentleman. Pa'das plopped Korrieana on the floor, and Jander shut the door tight so the baby could not wander out into the hall and fall down the stairs.
Jander was ready to settle down for some serious cuddling - that looked to be what Pa'das had in mind. As he crossed the room to join Pa'das where she lay flopped on the bed, Korrieana toddled over and grabbed onto his legs.
"Up, dada, up!" she commanded imperiously in her little voice.
Jander froze and cast a panicked glance to Pa'das. She almost laughed aloud, it was so comical. Why in the world was he so freaked out?
"Well, either explain to her that you're not her father, which would be a complete waste of breath, or let her call you 'daddy'. You've been that in all but name since I met you."
"Up, up, dada, up."
Jander hesitantly picked up the babe. This was… almost too much. After centuries of having no one he could truly trust, he suddenly had two human friends and Soorefina. After centuries of knowing he could never love again, because no one would accept the true him, he had a love that did. But, those things, he could handle. He just pushed the fear aside. Truth be told, deep down, Jander was terrified of both things. Why? He was not sure. Perhaps it was because feeling anything for anybody left him too open for betrayal, for hurt.
But, these feelings he could push aside, push down, until even he was not aware he had them. The one thing Jander had never dreamed about, never even dared to let himself think of, was hearing a child call him 'daddy'. And yet, here it was happening, and that frightened him most of all. For something so innocent and pure as a child to have such absolute trust in such an evil, corrupt being as him was almost unthinkable.
"Jander? Are you okay?"
"What? Oh, yes, I'm fine."
Pa'das stood up and went over to Jander. She took his shoulder and gently guided him over to the bed and sat him down. He sat Korrieana on his lap, letting her pull his long, wheat-gold hair.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"I…" Jander didn't know how to describe what he was feeling, so he settled for, "Yes, I'm fine. Really. Say, why did she…"
"Call you Jander, first?" Pa'das finished for him when he seemed unable to find the words. "I don't know. You have to admit, she is one strange baby."
"Down, down, down," Korrieana chanted, until Jander set her on the floor.
Pa'das sighed. "If I wasn't on the road so much, if I actually lived in one place, then I'd have a playpen for her so we could have a break from watching her."
Jander ruffled her hair. "Maybe Eckerd has a solution."
"Maybe Eckerd has a solution for what?" Eckerd asked as he walked into the room. It was really uncanny how he did that, sometimes.
"A portably playpen," Pa'das told him simply.
"Simple matter." Eckerd muttered a few words and made a few gestures. Blue lines began to fade in on an empty space on the floor until they formed what could only be described as a playpen. "There you go. If you say 'close sesame'," the blue lines disappeared, "it will disappear. And, obviously, 'open sesame'," the blue lines reappeared, "makes it come back. Light and easy to carry, it's the dream of every mother. Only five payments of three gold coins, plus shipping and handling." Eckerd grinned. "Anyways, the real reason I came up here was that they're having a story-telling contest down at the bar. Clay, the dwarf, knows some pretty good ones. You should come down."
"Sounds like fun," Pa'das said. She looked at Jander to see if he was coming.
"I'll stay up here and watch Korrieana. Maybe I'll come down later." Jander knew he would not be welcome, being an elf. He laughed to himself when Eckerd and Pa'das left. It was ironic - he had to be so very careful because he was a vampire, and would not be welcomed; however, here, it was for the simple fact that he was an elf. It was ironic and sad.
The new playpen caught Jander's eye. "Just who are you, Eckerd?" he mused aloud. The creating of something like this was no easy task, contrary to how Eckerd had made it look. "Who are you, really?"