A SOUL'S HOPE

Chapter I: Growing Pains

It had been a surprising couple of months. I was a soul sharing a body with its host, Melanie Stryder. We had become friends, almost like sisters loving two men simultaneously and yet individually. Then a few weeks ago I thought that I had made the ultimate sacrifice relinquishing my body back to the original owner with the knowledge that my life would be over; that I would be buried in the dry earth that surrounded our home in the desert. Only I was wrong , these humans loved me as I loved them and could not bear to live without me … Melanie, Jamie, Jared, Jeb, Doc, Trudy, even Kyle … but most of all Ian. He loved me for who I was. It didn't matter what form my body was in whether it was Melanie's body, the body I now possessed, even in my true form … 'a Silver Centipede' as some called it, a parasite-unable to survive without a host body. Ian had gazed into my eyes with his own piercing blue eyes and told me that he had held me in his hands and that he thought I was beautiful. My heart nearly burst with emotion at that moment. Now he and I were inseparable. Here in the desert, our party of six was returning from a raid to get supplies for our community that lived in the hidden caverns in the desert when we came upon another group of humans much to our surprise. They had found our 'garage' that housed our vehicles. At first we thought they were Seekers but it turned out that they were just like us in more ways than one. Just as I was a soul living happily in a human body and loving the humans as my own family; they too had a soul among them. His name was Burns and he was considered family to this group of humans led by a man named Nate. Nate was like our Jared. He was shorter than Ian and he had beautiful dark hair that stopped just above his shoulder. He had dark eyes to match his hair. He was roguishly good looking. I thought to myself; with an ounce of charm, he could rule the world. Once everyone realized that both parties were safe, Jared invited them back to our home to meet Jeb and the others.

Jared and Melanie had run on ahead to let the others know of the company on the way. I was much too slow in this body. I was still getting used to be being petite and delicate compared to Melanie's strong and fast body. Ian probably could move faster carrying me than traveling at my pace. He was always patient often taking the extra seconds to stare at me. I couldn't tell if he thought I was that beautiful or if he was still trying to adjust to my new body. I was pretty, I had to admit, but this body was only seventeen years old. I lied to Ian on the day I awoke in this body and told him I was about to turn eighteen. I didn't want to give him an excuse not to be with me. I wanted him more than anything but I inherited shyness with this new body. I needed him to want me as much as I wanted him.

When we left on the raid it was still raining and everyone was still sleeping in the 'game room' deep inside the caverns. Our bedrooms were closer to the surface and the ceilings were cracked with gaps and holes that allowed the rain to seep in. Luckily it only rained a few days out of the year during the months of February and March; winter months for some, but not here in the desert. Ian and I had not spent any time alone, as a couple. Tonight would be our first night together in our own room.

Ian drove the truck to the caverns and I rode shotgun, while the rest of the group traveled behind us on foot. He had been quiet for a while and I wondered if he too was thinking about tonight.

"I wonder how Kyle and Sunny are doing." Ian said keeping his eyes ahead.

"I don't know. Do you think Kyle will ever care about her as more than just as a soul?" I asked looking directly at his face.

He reached out and grabbed my hand. "He's not too bright, but if he has half a brain in his head, he would know that no one will ever love him the way she will. I think loving a soul is 'out of this world,'" he grinned feeling smug about his play on words. I giggled and blushed hoping my teen emotions wouldn't give away my innocence.

After docking the truck, everyone came out to greet us and help unload so the truck could be returned before dawn. Our guests soon arrived with Aaron and Brandt leading the way. It was like a 'meet and greet' that had been in my memory from when my body was occupied by Pet and she was checking out colleges. Jeb was gathering information from Nate about the other cells that he was in contact with. The others were in small groups sharing stories. It was late into the night and none of us on the raid had slept in nearly 24 hours. Our guests were led to the game room where they would sleep and the rest of us slowly left the party a few at a time to head off to bed. As I sat listening to Doc tell our story to Evan, Tom, and Kim from the visiting clan, my eyes felt heavier and heavier. My head lay against Ian's chest.

He placed his hand on my cheek and shook me gently. "Come on. Let's get you to bed, my Darling." He nudged me to my feet and then scooped me into his arms and said our "good nights" as he carried me towards the tunnel.

When I woke it was light and Ian was not in the room with me. Had he changed his mind? Where did he sleep? A wave of sadness washed over me as I realized that my big night, my first night with Ian did not happen and may never happen. I sat up, my hair everywhere like a big fluffy bird's nest. If he saw me like this he would probably run screaming in the night. If it was night then at least I could hide in the darkness. My brush … I left it in the truck. I had to get to Trudy or Lily and beg them to make me human again.

I scrambled to get up and as the door swung open I saw Ian's feet standing in front of me. No! I did not want to look up and have him see me like this.

"Wanda!" Ian said with a hint of silliness in his voice. "It's a beautiful morning and you make it all the more beautiful!" Was he kidding? I tried to control my hair in my hands as I looked at him with exasperation. "What's wrong?" He quickly dropped to his knees and placed his hands on my shoulders, searching my eyes for an answer.

"Look at me!" I barked.

He looked at me, searching, trying to find the problem. He was bewildered.

"Ugh, never mind" I muttered as I got up and stormed past him. My emotions were really wreaking havoc on me. I was angry that he left me here to sleep alone. He grabbed me around the waist before I could get through the door.

"Wait, will you talk to me?" he begged, not understanding what could have caused this crisis.

"Where did you sleep last night?" I demanded.

"Right here! Wait, where did you think I slept?" he asked.

I hated feeling emotional like this. At least, when Melanie was in my head with me, she could argue with me and help me to put things into perspective. Now I was selfish when it came to Ian. My eyes welled up as I spoke. "I didn't know where you slept, but … but I woke up and you weren't here and I was all alone and I thought …"

He didn't let me finish. He grabbed my face, bad breath, crazy hair and all and kissed me passionately. "My Darling, as long as we are together, you will never sleep alone. I promise you that." Then he pushed me back onto the mattress and laid his full lips on mine again. My heart began to beat faster and my hands traced his strong back and then around to his chest. Maybe my big night was going to happen after all. He pulled me on top of him and I felt like I was floating above him. My head started swimming in this pool of elation.

And then he stopped.

He pulled my face away from his and heaved a huge sigh that made my body rise and fall with the deep breath in his lungs. "I'm sorry, my Darling. I lost control there for a minute. Please forgive me. You are just so alluring."

"What? Why did you stop? Are you insane?"

"It's just that …"

I could see it coming. Melanie had gone through this with Jared when she first met him. He claimed she was too young and he would feel like a child molester or something. "It's just that I want it to be right … and right now is not the right time." He wouldn't elaborate on 'when' the right time would be and I was afraid to ask. I rolled off his chest onto the mattress and let out a sigh of my own.

"Don't be angry. I promise you, I won't make you wait forever." Forever? I'm a teenager. Every day is like forever in this body. He looked deep into my eyes. "I still love you," and he smiled his big beautiful smile. I couldn't be mad.

"I love you, too" and I kissed him on the tip of his nose. "Just remember, my forever and your forever are two different things." He knew I was referring to the fact that I had lived in nine different hosts on nine different planets before arriving here on Earth, the most beautiful of planets. In human years, I was thousands of years old. Life is so short here. How could he make me wait even one day? I gave up the fight. For now.

"Do you want to eat or bathe first?" I asked.

"I already bathed while you slept. Let's go get some breakfast." I looked at him suspiciously. Hmmm. Figures, he bathed so we wouldn't be alone, naked, in the dark, together. Obviously planned. I grabbed a set of clean clothes from my neatly folded pile of clothes on the shelf Ian had built for me when he was still unsure that I would move into this room with him. I grabbed an elastic hair tie and put my uncombed hair into what resembled more of a hairball than a pony tail. Ian waited patiently at the door and took my hand as we disappeared into the darkness of the tunnels.

As we approached the kitchen, I could hear the sound of familiar voices. Jamie was the first to greet us. "Wanda! Ian! I've been waiting for you." Jamie rushed over and gave me a bear hug. Again this body betrayed me. Jamie was now bigger than me and I disappeared in his arms just I did in everyone else's. I wrapped my arms around his waist and squeezed as hard as I could and he laughed at my weak attempt. "What is up with your hair?" It seemed my puff ball was in his face as I held him, dirty and ratty from the raid instead of soft and flowing as it usually was.

"You know what? I could just cut it all off!" I retorted.

"No … No I was just playing!" He shot a look at Ian. Ian shot a look back. One that transmitted that I obviously wasn't in a great mood and that he'd give him the details later.

"What would you like for breakfast? Thanks to you we have just about everything and I would be happy to cook for you." Jamie towed me over to the array of foods to choose from on the slab counter. There was fresh fruit, peaches, bananas, and blueberries. I had gotten blueberries especially for Lily because I knew she loved them and my heart was still aching for the loss of her Wes.

"Has Lily eaten yet?"

"I don't think so. I haven't seen her this morning."

"Tell you what. You make enough blueberry pancakes for me, Lily, and anyone else who would like them. I'll go and get Lily."

"I'll take some of that action." Ian piped over the voices of the others in the kitchen.

"You can help Jamie, then" I replied bluntly to Ian. As I moved through the room to get to the doorway I passed Nate and Burns, the soul from the visiting clan.

"Hey Wanda. What's the hurry?" Burns asked as he lumbered in front of me blocking my progress.

"The guys are making blueberry pancakes and I am going to get Lily. I'll be back in a few." I slid around Burns and his hand reached out to touch my puffball.

"Blueberry pancakes! Bring it on! I'll save you some!" he called back to me as I raced into the tunnel.

It was dark in the tunnels and I was glad for the darkness because I didn't want to bring attention to myself when I looked so horrid. I remembered that I needed to ask Lily for her brush when I saw her. It struck me funny … not funny … almost sad that when I was in Melanie's body my face had been tattered from the several attacks when these humans still thought of me as an "it" rather than a "she". I didn't care about what I looked like. My main objective was to stay alive. Now as an accepted member of the clan in this new body I was vain. I couldn't depend on my strength or my speed so I relied on my beauty.

Lilly's make shift door was still in the closed position when I got to her room. I tapped lightly. "Lily? Are you awake?" I spoke barely above a whisper not wanting to wake her rudely. "Lily, Jamie is making your favorite breakfast in the kitchen." It hadn't occurred to me until this moment that she might not like pancakes, even with blueberries in them.

"Wanda? Is that you? Come in." I entered quietly into the room. It was not as bright as my room. The walls were more solid, closer to the core of the rock, more sturdy with less cracks allowing less light into it. She looked lost on the large mattress that she surely would have shared with Wes had he still been alive.

"Jamie is making blueberry pancakes. I know you like blueberries …"

"I love blueberry pancakes! Oh Wanda, Thank you for thinking of me!" She scrambled to her knees and began to make her bed. She was very neat and her room reflected that. Ian wasn't so neat. His clothes were always thrown into a corner and the few items he had managed to acquire were also thrown rather haphazardly in the room. I thought to myself that I would have to work on this with him.

"Can I borrow your brush? I left mine in the truck and it's already been returned to the hiding place. After breakfast I am going to wash my hair. Look at it! It soooo needs conditioning!"

"Of course. You can keep it. I have another. I can't believe you brought back blueberries!"

"I brought them for you. But I didn't realize my pancake idea would be such a hit. There won't be any left over for you to snack on."

"Don't be silly!" She beamed. Lily looked happier than I had seen her in a long while and I was glad that I was able to put the smile back on her face.

As we entered the kitchen, it was as if the party from last night had never ended. There were many more people in there now and they were all claiming a small space as their own and the call of "pancakes up" brought Nate to his feet. He approached the cook to accept the offered plate. Jamie waved to us as we entered. Trudy was now at the stove doing the cooking instead of Jamie.

"Hey you guys!" he chirped. "We got so many orders that now we are making a choice of banana or blueberry pancakes, but I made sure I put enough blueberries aside for you and Lily's pancakes."

"By WE, you mean Trudy?" I spoke like the big sister I considered myself to be.

"Trudy pushed me out." He smiled sheepishly. "She did! Ask Ian." I jabbed him in the stomach playfully and he poked me right back. Before long, everyone had their fill of pancakes and many of the crowd had left the kitchen. Kyle and Sunny entered the room and I noticed Burns straighten up in his seat as he glanced in her direction. It seemed to me that Burns had an interest in Sunny and I couldn't help but wonder what Kyle would think of that. Sunny inhabited Jodie's body and Jodie was Kyle's love. Doc had removed Sunny from the host the same day he had freed Melanie's body from me, but Jodie never came back. Her body was catatonic and after a long while Kyle asked Doc to put Sunny back into Jodie's body. Sunny's memories of Kyle provided by Jodie's life before Sunny were strong and for that reason she loved Kyle just as Jodie did. Kyle on the other hand seemed torn over the whole situation. Although he cared for Sunny and her sweetness, he couldn't let go of the fact that Sunny would never be Jodie and it seemed so unfair that Melanie came back but Jodie didn't. Still, he treated Sunny like a little sister. He protected her and he never minded her need to be constantly touched or held, but he never kissed her other than a peck on the forehead or the nose. At least not that I had ever witnessed. Would Kyle accept that another man might show an interest in Sunny? The fact that they were both souls only increased their compatibility. I was one to talk; being a soul in love with Ian and still harboring residual feelings for Jared as well.

"Wanda?" Ian interrupted my thoughts. "Are you okay? You look a million miles away."

"Um, sorry. Just daydreaming. I think I'll go take my bath now."

"Do you want me to go with you to keep you company?" he asked.

I was still a little perturbed that he had taken his bath without me. "No, you hang out. I'll be back in a little bit."

He wasn't sure how to take my answer and his face showed his skepticism but he kissed me quickly and stepped back to allow me to pass.

Burns rose suddenly and spoke. "Wanda. Are you going to the facilities? Can I follow you? I don't remember how to get there."

"Sure, no problem" I waited for Burns to cross the room to me and as we turned to leave the room I saw Ian looking a little tense. Burns was the tallest man here. He was taller than Kyle. He moved with a smoothness about him. He projected a shyness but I sensed that he was more cerebral and didn't voice his opinions unless asked. He was good looking, not like Ian, but his sandy red hair draped his forehead framing his kind features in an almost boyish way.

Burns was not comfortable with the tunnel system of our compound and I remembered when I first arrived here how Jeb had taken my elbow to guide me through the darkness. I offered my arm for Burns to cling onto and he took it willingly. "I'm glad we finally have the chance to talk and share stories," he said in a low voice.

"I'm sure you heard my story last night. Didn't you?"

"Yes. But I didn't hear it from your point of view. I love my family but they don't always understand the thoughts that go through my head and there is no one who can truly understand my feelings."

"I know what you mean."

"So, this is your second host on this planet? How were you ever able to sacrifice yourself like that?" I couldn't see his eyes in the dark but his grasp on my arm tightened with the question and I could feel his anguish at the thought of putting my fragile silver body in the hands of the humans.

We entered the bathing room and in the dim light he turned to stare at me trying to understand. I looked away feeling very shy. "I'm going to hop in the tub. You know your way through to the back room, right?"

"You know I would like to finish this conversation if you don't mind. I could sit with you while you bathe. It's pitch black in there and I promise to sit against the wall. I just have so many questions."

I realized at that moment that I had a ton of questions for him as well and I wanted to find out about his thoughts on Sunny. "Sure, we can talk but I think we should take turns asking questions."

"Deal."

We entered the blackness together and separated immediately. I laid my clothes and my toothbrush on the side of the hole that served as a bathtub. It could easily hold ten people. It was more like a Jacuzzi or a small pool because there was an undercurrent that kept fresh water constantly flowing through it. It was quiet except for the light splash as I dunked my head under water again and again trying to get my hair wet enough to shampoo. I heard Burns return to the room and step carefully along the wall. Then his steps stopped and I heard him sit.

"Wanda? You still here?"

"Yes."

"So tell me how you came to be here."

I told him my story of how Melanie was in my head with me providing me with vivid memories of Jared and Jamie and yet putting up a wall as to where to find them

until she was sure that I could be trusted not to turn them all in. I told him of how I had been held prisoner and beaten by Jared and Ian and Kyle. Although I could not see him, I could hear his breath stop with each detail of their murderous thoughts. I told him that Jeb was my greatest ally in the beginning even though I couldn't for the life of me understand why. I told him about Jamie and his unconditional love for both Melanie and me and how he was the first to accept both of us together.

"Wait. I'm confused. You love Jared and he beat you, twice. You love Ian and he tried to strangle you to death and would have succeeded if not for Jeb. Kyle came within seconds of finishing you off and he has Sunny following him around like a puppy dog. I don't get it. How can you love these people?"

"When you put it like that, I guess you might be confused. I tried very hard to look at it from their perspective. They are the last of a dying breed and here I was … the enemy."

"But you were a just a girl and souls don't condone violence."

"That maybe true but a Seeker has been known to use whatever means necessary to hunt down the humans. My Seeker killed Wes and almost killed Brandt. She may not have condoned violence but she still used it when she needed to and she was a girl. The humans thought I was some super Seeker capable of just about anything."

"Then why didn't they just kill you or better yet leave you to die in the desert?"

"Because I was Melanie. Melanie is Jeb's niece. In the beginning, I think Jeb just wanted to keep me alive because he couldn't bear to destroy Melanie's body. That's what I think but you would have to ask Jeb."

"Hmm. But that still doesn't answer my question about the love part."

"Melanie and I were separate but one. We were like sisters forced to share a body. We fought together and cried together; worried together and plotted together. Loving her was easy and she loved Jared so that was easy for me too. Jamie and Jeb were easy to love as well. They accepted me and protected me even when it seemed hopeless."

"Ian. What about Ian. How can you love him?"

I sighed. "I can't tell you how that happened, exactly. He confessed his guilt at trying to murder me to Jared and from that moment on he was a different Ian. Maybe that's the reason he loves me. Because of his guilt. I never considered that before." In that moment Burns had given me something to think about. What if Ian only loved me out of guilt? I pushed the thought to the back of my head hoping desperately that it was not the case. I needed to change the subject.

"Tell me your story."

"My host's family lived in the mountains; on a large piece of land handed down from generation to generation. My host's name was Frank. Frank hated living so far from civilization. He had to take a bus for forty five minutes each day just to get to school. He had few friends due to the distance and the few girls that gave him a second look gave up when Frank couldn't be there for them; again due to the distance and the lack of transportation. He studied hard and begged his father to let him go to college. His father cared enough that he sold a piece of his land to fund Frank's college tuition and so Frank went off to pursue his dream."

"So, when did you get placed in Frank's body?"

"Frank was at college and he wasn't feeling well. He went to the clinic and there I was placed."

"Did you go back to see Frank's family on the mountain?"

"I did." I could hear his breath grow ragged almost panicked. He paused for a long minute. Then he spoke slowly and deliberately. "I went back to the mountain hoping to see my family. I found my mother and my sister who had both been implanted with a soul shot to death. My father who was still human had shot himself." He got very quiet and I could hear him sniffing back the emotions that were too great to hold back. I wanted to go to him and hold him but I was still in the tub even though I had long since finished cleansing myself.

"I'm sorry," I said barely above a whisper. "I understand your pain and I wish I could take it from you."

"Thank you," he said his voice cracking with anguish. I gave him a minute to grieve and took the opportunity to brush my teeth, get out the tub, dry myself off, and put on my clothes. I stepped towards the light sniffles and sat down next to Burns and reached for his forearm. He put his hand over mine and we sat in silence for a few minutes before I attempted to ask another question.

"So, where did you go after that? Back to college? How did you end up with Nate?"

"I buried my family and after that I just stayed in the house. I had no desire to go back to college. My aspirations were buried with my father. I hated that my life form had destroyed this family. I hated that the human race felt so desperate to survive that they would rather die than accept us. I lived alone. A hermit. I didn't want to associate with my own kind. I only spoke to them in passing when I needed to."

"And Nate?" Burns did not get to answer. Ian stormed through the entrance abruptly. "Wanda? What the hell? Why are you sitting here in the dark … with him?" He may have been pointing at Burns but it was dark and I couldn't see either one of them. "Are you even dressed?" I could hear the anger in his voice.

"Whoa, we were just talking!" Burns replied in my defense.

"Ian how could you?" Ian reached down and grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet. I tried to pull away but Ian was so strong and so angry. He dragged me to the other room where the dim light shone near the two rivers. He was tugging me towards the light which was near the first river. Suddenly, the memory of Kyle dragging me towards the river to my death came flooding back to me and I panicked. "NO!" I struggled. "NO! Kyle, let me go!"

Everything happened so fast. Ian hearing me call him Kyle stopped him cold as he realized the horror that was going through my head. Burns rushed into the room and flew past me, slamming Ian to the ground. Ian didn't fight back but slid away from Burns, got up, and fled the room. My heart stopped. Burns lay sprawled on the floor still shocked at his reaction.

"Burns! Are you alright?"

"Yes. Are you?"

"I'm so sorry. I have to go to Ian. Can you find your way out?"

"Yes, but …"

I didn't wait for anything more. I sprinted out of the room and down the tunnel. I went straight to our room. He wasn't there. I went to the kitchen. He wasn't there. I went to Doc's infirmary. He wasn't there. My chest was heaving from both the running and the horrible fear that I would lose him. I needed to think. My mind was racing. I grabbed a flashlight from Doc's desk and I went to the game room. There were several people there and plenty of light. Ian had not come here. I tried to think of where I would go if I were trying to hide. I headed for the eastern field where Ian and I had often hid when we were trying to avoid Jamie. I prayed he would be there. He wasn't. I collapsed. I put my head in my hands and started to sob. The thoughts of Ian loving me out of guilt rose to the surface yet again and I sobbed harder. Everything had been going so well. We were happy. These last twenty four hours seemed to be a nightmare. Please let me wake up and be in Ian's arms again.

I rose to my feet and sullenly walked back towards the main cavern. I would go to the one person who could talk some sense to me. I would go see Melanie. I saw Kyle and Sunny coming in my direction and I rushed to them and asked if they had seen Ian. He hadn't, but he could see the panic on my face. I couldn't explain what had just transpired; not with Sunny there. I just begged him to help me find Ian. I told him of the places I had already checked and that I was going to see Mel. He walked me to Mel's room where she was alone with Jared sharing a moment. As soon as they saw my expression they pulled me down onto the mattress and begged me for the details. Kyle took off in search of his brother. After maybe fifteen minutes, Kyle returned and said that Ian was in the same shape as I was. He too was sobbing. He was with Lily who was trying unsuccessfully to console him.

I was gone in a flash headed to Lily's room. I wasn't running but I wasn't walking either. It was sort of a quick walk with pauses as I considered how to handle this mess. When I turned the corner to the intersection of rooms and saw Ian sitting against the wall, all my plans and considerations went right out the window. I walked towards him slowly, my hands held out towards him, each step my knees bending more and more bringing me closer to the floor, closer to him. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to …"

"Stop!" he bellowed. "You don't belong with me. I am a monster. Burns is like you. You should be with him."

I stopped dead in my tracks. Anger pushed its way all through my body. I wanted to beat the living daylights out of him. I turned around, my back to him. I needed to think before I reacted. "Lily, I know this is your room but can I ask you to please leave. Get Jeb. If we cannot resolve this, one of us is going to die." It was an empty threat but when I turned back to face Ian he was staring at me in shock.

"Wanda, don't do ANYTHING until I get back. PROMISE ME!" Lily blurted out.

"GO!"

I looked at Ian with intensity, my question burning in my chest. "Do … you … love me? Just answer the question."

"Yes"

"Why?"

"Because you make me happy."

"Then why are you sitting here in tears."

"Wanda, I …"

"Just answer the question."

"Because I don't deserve you."

"And why pray tell is that?"

"Because you are so good and I am a monster."

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes as I asked the next question even though I was scared to death of his answer. "Do you love me because you feel guilty for trying to kill me?"

He paused, deliberating his answer. "I do feel both remorse and guilt for trying to kill you." My heart sank and I felt like I was going to throw up. "But that is not the reason I am in hopelessly and desperately in love with you." I opened my eyes at the surprise of his words. "I love you because you are everything a woman would hope to be. You are kind, compassionate, loving, giving; too giving. Self sacrificing. You are the epitome of good. And to top it all off you are gorgeous! What have I done to deserve you?"

My mind began to race through all of the touching moments I spent with Ian in the last few months. I needed to express my feelings as clearly as possible to leave him with no misunderstanding. "You are the second person today to ask me why you deserve my love." I paused. I could see in Ian's red rimmed eyes that he understood that Burns had asked me this same question. "I do not believe the question was asked out of romantic interest in me, but rather …"

Ian blurted out. "I was jealous. I admit it. How can I compete with a soul?"

"Stop it!" My heart crumbled. I needed to touch him. I needed to comfort him and be comforted by him. But I needed to finish this conversation as well. For the first time all day I felt like an adult and not a whiny teenager. Maybe if I hadn't been a whiny teenager, none of this would have happened in the first place. I would fix this if it took all day. "Ian. I need you to hold me. Please?" I dropped to my knees and as I leaned toward him he grabbed me around the waist and pulled me to his lap. He wrapped himself around me and started rocking back and forth like a child who had just found his favorite stuffed animal. We both sobbed and it brought me back to the night that he found out I was going to give Melanie back her body. But no one was going to die tonight. Was our passion and insecurities so much that we were doomed to torture each other? No. We would have to come to an understanding. We would have to tell each other our fears.

"Ian, I will always love you."

"The last time you said that to me, you were planning on leaving me." He said fear in his voice.

He was telling me his greatest fear. He was afraid I would leave him. "I will never leave you and I will never love another. Ever. I told you this once before. Didn't you believe me?"

"Humans are fickle. Before the souls came here, most couples didn't last. Sure they loved each other in the beginning but then time would pass and someone else would come along in their life that was better suited or sometimes just more exciting and they

would embrace the new relationship and leave the old one behind. Broken hearts were not uncommon."

"So … You're afraid that Burns is going to steal my heart and I will leave you because you don't deserve me and he does? Is that what you are thinking? This is your greatest fear?"

"I dread it."

"It's never going to happen." I stared into his pleading eyes. He grabbed me to kiss my lips. "Wait!" I pulled back from his lips. "Do you want to know what my greatest fear is?"

At that moment I could hear footsteps in the tunnel. It was Lily and Jeb. Lily was still freaking out. Jeb was telling Lily to calm down. As they rounded the corner into view Jeb came to a sudden halt, gun in hand. Ian and I were in each others arms as I sat on his lap.

"Ya see? Told you there was nothing to be alarmed about. Jeesh. Young love. What a pain." He looked annoyed as he said to us, "Are you gonna kill each other today?" Just the way Jeb had delivered this line made us both bust out laughing. He shook his head and mumbled "get married already," and he stomped off. Lily slumped off behind him obviously feeling like the fool. I would have to do a lot of apologizing for making her crazy with worry.

Ian put his hand around my neck and whispered, "Just one" and he pressed his lips to mine lightly and then again. "Oh, hell," he said and then he went in for the kill. I knew there was something we still needed to talk about but I couldn't think of it. Not now. As we kissed I twisted my body so that instead of sitting on his lap I was straddling him. The burn of his lips was shooting an intense current through my body and the tingle of my inner thighs had me wet with desire. I was kissing his neck and trying to open his shirt. Suddenly he grabbed my wrists. He was panting. "Wanda, stop." I didn't want to. I was at the base of his neck working my way to his chest. "WANDA, STOP!" He pushed me off of him with force but not enough to hurt me.

I was livid. "You started this!" I pushed myself against the wall a few feet away from him and wrapped my arms around my legs. Tears began to flow freely down my cheeks again. "Do you want to know what my biggest fear is?"

He didn't move. "What?"

"My biggest fear is that you will never make love to me because for some stupid reason you are afraid of me. Do you think my tentacles are going to come out of my body like some stupid horror movie?"

Ian looked at me dumbfounded. He looked as though he was considering what I had said and then he busted out laughing.

"What's so funny?" I asked surprised at his laughter.

"You're kidding right?" he said still grinning. Chuckles were still escaping as he looked at me trying to regain his composure.

After a minute he sat silent again and he said, "First of all, I am not afraid to make love to you. As a matter of a fact, that is all I think about. That is why I got up before you and took my bath without you."

"I knew it." He had confirmed my earlier suspicions of not wanting to be alone with me in the tub.

"Did you hear what Jeb said before he left us?"

"Um. He said that young love was a pain. I guess he was right."

"No. He said we should get married."

Now I was dumbfounded. I felt like I didn't understand what he was getting at.

"I want to marry you Wanda. I want you to be my wife. To be Mrs. Ian O'Shea."

Again I was dumbfounded. I sat there like a statue, frozen to the ground; a stalactite or stalagmite. Ian slid over to me hunching over to look into my eyes to see if I was awake.

Finally, I spoke. "You. Want to. Marry. Me?"

He smiled a huge smile still hunched to keep his eyes on mine. He nodded his head as he said, "Yes. I want you to marry me."

"Wanda O'Shea?" My eyes were still fixated on his.

"Yes."

I threw my arms around his neck. I was on my knees and he slowly got up pulling me with him.

"Oh Ian, I can't believe it!"

"You still haven't answered the question."

"Yes, yes, yes!" I must have said it twenty times kissing a different part of his face every time.

"Now you can't go making me crazy. It's not like I can take you on a honeymoon so I want our wedding night to be special. Do you understand?"

"Oh, Ian! Yes I understand completely," and then I planted a hot and heavy kiss on his lips which made us both crazy. And I understood when he made us stop.