I finally finished The Host and I can't believe I ever put this book down. I don't normally write for books but Wanda and Ian's love story was just too precious to pass up. Looking around I haven't found many AU fics for these two so here is my contribution. As a side note I have no idea is Arizona State University has a soccer team but for my purposes they do.
I apologize for any and all spelling and grammatical errors as I have no beta. Now on with the show
Seeking the Sun
"Jared, can I ask you a question?"
I can feel the familiar burn of blood blossoming across my cheeks before making a slow decent down my neck when Jared looks up from beneath the hood of Melanie's beat up Ford. Familiar hazel eyes soften and the sweet half-smile he reserves only for me pulls at his lips just so. I love that smile. Only that smile and those eyes don't mean what I once hoped they meant. Jared adores me, loves me even, but it's not the kind of love he has for my adoptive sister Melanie.
Growing up, it was almost impossible not to have a crush on our next door neighbor, Jared Howe. Two years older than Mel and three years older than me he was everything I wanted and more. Tall, strong, beautiful in the extreme, kind to a fault, and a born leader that excelled at everything he put his mind to. Secretly always held a hope that one day he would see me as more than just the girl next door, but as fate would have it, it was Mel that he fell in love with. It hurt, still hurts sometimes, but anyone can see that they are perfect for each other. Each with their own strengths and weaknesses but together they balance one another in a way I could never.
"You can ask me anything, honey."
I may be over him but I couldn't help the slight ache that accompanies his endearment. Breathing deeply through my nose to calm the fluttering of nerves and racing heart in preparation for this next part, this was embarrassing enough without my traitorous heart getting the best of me.
"Do you think…" My voice shakes, my heart beats loudly in my chest but he is smiling at me, encouraging me to continue, which makes it that much harder to ask him this. "Do you think that I'm attractive…pretty?" I tack on quickly before I lose my nerve entirely.
Is attractive asking too much? Do I really what to know if he does think I'm attractive? Or worse yet, What if he doesn't think I'm pretty? All these questions and more bombard my thoughts while I wait for his answer. Seconds turn to minutes and he remains silent to my horror. Mortified, I dare a glance at his face before my eyes flicker away again, one of many nerves habits that I have yet to conquer. What I wouldn't give for an ounce of Mel's unyielding courage about now.
Out of my periphery Jared's face is a mask of surprise, his mouth hangs open and his thick eyebrows have practically disappeared into his hairline. Under normal circumstances the site would have me giggling uncontrollably but instead I am stunned to realize that I have rendered Jared speechless. I, Wanda Stryker, have left Jared speechless. I should be proud of my accomplishment but all I can do is look at my feet and wait for the ground to swallow me whole. Any second now…
"Where is this coming from?" He sputters after a few swallows, scratching at his shaggy curls in a gesture I recognize as discomfort. Suddenly I feel like the worlds biggest ass for putting him on the spot. The burn in my cheeks increases with the sting of hot tears blurring vision. Just as I am about to run next door and drown myself in the O'Shea's pool his strong grease stained hands reach out and catch me around the middle.
Why couldn't he have just let me die of embarrassment in peace? Is that really too much to ask?
Knowing it's pointless to resist, I let him pull me back and set me on the tool chest as if I were a doll. A habit people in my life adopted when I stopped growing at 5 feet. My cheeks flair under at his manhandling but I don't let him see my tears. Instead, I keep my head tucked against my chest letting the curtain of my pail hair shield me from his probing gaze.
I have always been too emotional. I can still hear Kyle O'Shea, one of our other neighbors, teasing me while I cried over a scraped knee during my one and only attempt at playing soccer when I was eleven years old. Even though Mel, assisted by Kyle's younger brother Ian, gave Kyle a bloodied nose for being such a jerk to me his words still haunt me, a constant reminder of my 'delicate nature'.
"Oh Wanda, don't cry. Pleas don't cry." He pleads; rough hands wipe at my cheeks as if he is afraid I will break if too much pressure is applied. Unfortunately his kindness only adds to my distress.
"No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked you that. Don't worry; you don't have to answer me. I know I'm not as beautiful as Mel…" And it's true that Mel is more beautiful than I will ever be, with her shoulder length auburn hair and hazel green eyes. Her coloring so vivid and bright like dancing flames compared to my pale complexion.
"No, that is not what I meant at all! Of course I think you're pretty, you are beautiful! I would have to be blind not to see that. I just don't know why you would ask me something like that." My head snaps up about then. He thinks I'm beautiful? Those words are a magical revelation that satisfies the tiny part of my heart that still longs for his approval, but his conformation only leaves me with more questions.
"What is going on here?" Melanie demands from the garage door surprising both Jared and myself.
Oh no, I can only imagine what we must look like to her. With tears running down my cheeks, Jared standing in front of me with one hand cradling my face while the other hugs me close, and an adorable lost puppy expression plastered across his face. I open my mouth to explain but she takes one look at my tear-stained face and turns a murderous look on her beloved boyfriend.
"What did you do to her?" She all but screams marching over to us with her hands clutching her hips and eyes blazing. I am frozen in place but, thankfully Jared has the sense to jump back from me with his hands in the air in a show of surrender. I always knew he was a smart guy even if I wish there weren't a need for him to be in this situation.
"I didn't mean to upset her. Wanda asked me a question and I…" Mel cuts him off with a dismissive wave and wraps me in a tight hug which only adds to my guilt once more. The last thing I want is Mel angry with Jared when he hasn't done anything wrong. Not when I am the one using him to appease my own insecurities.
"I don't want to hear it! Wanda, are you alright?" She coos sweetly, long fingers reaching up to brush a stray strand of silver hair away from my face. Something in me snaps at the gesture. I feel trapped suddenly. Without warning I push her back, ignoring the hurt look she cast me way. I know she is just being her normal protective self but I am so tiered of being treated like a little girl.
Melanie adores me, Jared adores me, just as everyone I know adores me. With my long silvery hair, porcelain skin, petite stature, and grey blue eyes I have always been told I look like an angel. Personally I didn't see it. All I have ever seen when I look in the mirror is straight colorless hair that is good for nothing but blowing in the wind, a willowy figure too weak to excel at any sport, and don't even get me started on my height. I am almost eighteen and little Jamie; my wonderful little brother is almost taller than me at thirteen years old. Sometimes life is not fair, but despite my misgivings about my appearance I have always been told that I am special, beautiful in a way that makes others want to protect me. Which actually translates to; they want to keep me locked away in an ivory tower far above the rest of the human population. To be admired but never touched.
A fact I have never minded until recently.
I have a family that loves me unconditionally, that took me in after my parents died and raised me like their own daughter. I have an older sister and younger brother that love me, and whom I love with all my soul in return. Then there is Jared and Ian. They have always been my protectors from all things big and small.
"He didn't do anything. I asked a stupid question and then got upset with myself before he could answer. He was just trying to make me feel better, no harm done." I assure Mel with a bit more attitude than I intended, hoping my explanation doesn't sound as petulant out loud as it does in my head.
"Alright, what did you ask him?"
When I don't answer she looks to Jared elaborate.
Jared turns trying to catch my eyes but I keep my head averted, still too embarrassed to face him. "She asked me if I think she's pretty." He explains with a confused shrug.
"Of course you're pretty!" Mel explodes as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Why would you even ask such a question?"
By now both Mel and Jared are looking at me, waiting for an answer, and it's an answer that I don't want to give.
"I was just wondering." I try to play it off but nether one of them buys my explanation.
"Why?" Mel repeats with more force. She isn't going to let this go; she is like a dog in that respect. Nagging at a situation until she gets her way, a trait I both admire and despise, especially when she employs it against me.
"Fine, Lily has hinted for weeks that she thought Wes was going to ask me to prom, and then I found out today that he asked a junior to go instead. I was just wondering what I did wrong. Why doesn't anyone want to take me?" I hate the swell of self-doubt that accompanies the memory but I really thought Wes liked me. He flirted with me for months, walking me to class and texting me funny messages over the weekends. He even asked me if I had a date already, and when I assured him that I didn't he seemed pleased. Hence my confusion when I found out he asked someone else and then proceeded to ignore me all day.
Whatever reaction I had expected following my little confession, complete silence was not high on the list. I look between Mel and Jared to catch the two of them trading guilty glances.
"What am I missing here?"
Both of them know Wes, since he has been in my group of friends since elementary school. Did they know something that I didn't?
"Do you want to tell her?" Mel asks Jared with an arched brow, a dare almost.
One that Jared doesn't take, apparently.
Jared bows out with hand in the air. "No thank you. I have upset her enough for one day."
Mel throws a "Coward!" over her shoulder before turning back to me with a look that says I am not going to like what she's about to say.
"I want you to know that they just did it because they wanted to protect you."
"What are you talking about? Who did what to protect me?" I ask with a sick feeling turning in my stomach.
Melanie's 'coward' comment must have gotten to him because it is Jared that answers my question. "A few years ago I over heard a few of Kyle's more obnoxious friends, talking about you in a less than flattering way." Jared grinds his teeth together, a clear sign that he is still fuming over whatever Kyle's friends had said. "So I took care of it." He continued cryptically.
Mel must have seen the confusion written on my face and rushes to clarify Jared's ominous statement. "They scared them off and a few other guys while you've been in high school too. I'm sorry Wanda, but I promise you none of them were the kind of guys you wanted to get involved with."
I suddenly feel light-headed and stumble backward until my back hits the wall with a resounding thump, Jared and Mel both reach out to steady me but I ward them off. I meant what I said about not wanting them to coddle me; I just can't believe what I am hearing. All this time I have wondered if there is something wrong with me, if I am in some way deficient or too child like in my looks and manner to be attractive to the opposite sex. But now I find that it wasn't me that was unattractive but that Jared had chased off every guy that he deemed unfit. And worse yet, Melanie knew about it the entire time.
A thousand emotions compete for dominance in my aching head, but in the end I settled on bewilderment. I wrap myself in a protective hug before facing Jared. "So you scared off Wes? Why would you do that, Wes is your friend too? I can't believe he would do anything to hurt me intentionally" My voice is small and weary with emotion; Jared visibly winces at the sound.
"I had nothing to do with this one, I promise. Wes is a good kid and I have no problem with him asking you out." He is quick to defend.
Okay, now I am confused. "If you didn't do it, then who did?"
"My guess," Mel answers with a small smile, "would be Ian."
Ian? Why would Ian be involved in all this, hadn't Jared said that he was the one scaring them off? Then my mind finally registers that Mel had said 'they' wanted to protect me, not 'he' but 'they'.
"Why would Ian chase off Wes though? You just said you approved, and Ian and Wes are friends. This doesn't make any sense."
I want to pull my hair out in frustration but Mel and Jared continue to trade pregnant looks. A silent conversation takes place before my eyes and I have no way of knowing what is being said. With a shared nod they seem to come to some sort of agreement before turning to me with secretive smiles spreading across their annoyingly smug faces.
"You are going to have to ask him that yourself, honey."
Ian isn't too hard to find, in fact he is exactly where I expected him to be. There isn't that much to do in our small Arizona town and on a beautiful day like today Ian could usually be found running drills in the local park.
The sport of choice within our sleepy little town has always been Soccer. Melanie is an amazing player, her tall athletic build and agile movements allowing her an advantage over her male teammates. In the summer we would spend every afternoon on the field, me on the side lines cheering with my parents while Mel, Jared, Ian and Kyle all dominated the field. Even Jamie has turned out to be a gifted player recently but it was Ian that showed a true love for the game. That is why it was no surprise to anyone when Ian won a full athletic scholarship to Arizona State for Soccer two years ago.
I expected to feel upset when Jared left for college three years ago, but I was surprised at how disheartening it was to watch Ian leave the year after. Ian has always been special to me. While Jared was my champion growing up, defending me against Kyle and his bullying friends, it was Ian who stayed behind to wipe my tears away and hold my hand until Mel could take over. I remember waking up at the crack of dawn the morning before Ian left for ASU to bake a batch of his favorite muffins so that he would have a snack for the two-hour drive ahead of him. He thanked me with a heart stopping smile full of dimples and dazzling white teeth, when I blushed scarlet and stammered a 'your welcome' he wrapped me in his arms and swung me around until I was laughing so hard I could barely breath and was dizzy from the spinning.
All of those things were classic Ian, which is why I am having such a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that Ian would do something like this to me. My emotions were in an uproar, oscillating between confusion, hurt, and anger, but the moment I spot Ian's tall broad figure running drills across the field a spark of pure anger ignites in my chest. Fuming, I march the hundred feet between us as fast as my short legs will carry me. I am no more than twenty feet away when he spots me, the cobalt blue of his eyes meets mine across the field. I freeze on the spot as if I have stepped in a pit of quicksand, any sudden movements and I will be dragged under. I have looked at Ian a million times before. I remember the gawky preteen he once was before Soccer became his life. Within one summer he put on 40 pounds of muscle and seemed to grow a foot and a half, but looking at him now, I feel as though I am seeing him for the first time.
I have always though Ian was handsome, with his unruly dark hair that is always in need of a trim, sparkling sapphire eyes that darken to cobalt when he gets excited, and a smile that shines brighter than the Arizona sun beating down on his sweat dampened hair, the ends of which curl around his face in a way that has my fingers itching to brush away from his golden forehead. Still smiling he abandons his drills and as I watch him close the short distance separating us I realize that I have somehow missed his transition from handsome to absolutely gorgeous.
"My Wonder has found me." His voice is rough from exertion. I can't help the slight tremble in my knees the use of his nickname for me evokes. How exactly had I never noticed how deep his voice has become?
But as he reaches out to brush my ever-burning cheek I back up a step, instinctual knowing that if he touches me I will forget my anger and I don't want to forget it. I want answers!
Seeing my withdrawal he frowns and my resolve wavers. I don't like seeing him frown, I like his smile and the way it makes my insides feel warm and gooey.
"What's wrong?" He asks and my dwindling resolve strengthens once more. I don't answer him directly; instead I pose a question of my own.
"Why did you tell Wes not to ask me to Prom?" My hands frame my hips in an effort to appear authoritative but in reality I am well aware of how ridiculous I must look to him. Standing before him, dressed in a white linen sun dress, with the top of my head barely reaching his shoulders. I have to crane my neck to glare at him, but I hold the pose. This is a gamble I know, trusting Mel and Jared that Ian really is the reason Wes didn't ask me to prom only they have no reason to lye to me even if I can't fathom why Ian would do such a thing.
He looks confused for a second before understanding and then…is that anger I see clouding his eyes? How dare he be angry, I am the one that's had her feeling toyed with by whatever game he is playing.
"I don't know what you're talking about." He denies and turns his back on me; my eyes follow his large hands as he runs them through his dark hair in a familiar gesture of agitation.
Anger surges within and before I can stop my self I grab his arm, trying to turn him around again but I have no leverage. He might as well have been a mountain for all the good my yanking was doing. "You know exactly what I'm talking about. Mel and Jared told me that you and Jared used to scar off every guy that was interested in me." I accuse maintaining my hold on his arm, hyper-aware of every flex of corded muscle under my fingertips. "Was it a game to you two? Chasing them off, making me feel like a social pariah, too low for any decent guy to notice?" Silent sobs over take my body; fat tears stream down my face uncontrollably, choking me as years of pent-up insecurities come poring out of mouth. My anger fizzles away and I am no longer tugging at his arm, but clinging to it instead.
Between one heartbeat and the next Ian turns, gathering me against his chest. My feet barely touch to ground, he holds me so close and in return my arms wrap around his torso holding on for dear life as sobs continue to wrack my small frame. He whispers my name over and over, mumbling apologies and other words I can't make out over my own tears.
A memory flickered behind my eyes. A recollection of the first time Ian held me in the shell of his arms. Melanie, Jared, Ian and I had gone hiking, one of the few outdoor activities I enjoy. One misstep and my foot caught on a loose rock; crying out I felt my ankle twist with a tearing pain shoot up my leg. The memory alone is enough to make me shudder. Within minuets my ankle was swollen to double its normal size beginning to take on a bluish purple color. Mel held my hand while Jared and Ian argued over which one of them would carry me the mile and a half back to the car. I hoped then that it would be Jared but without waiting Ian swept me up as if I were weightless before Jared could reach my side. My disappointment was short-lived; within moments Ian had me laughing at his poor jokes and I forgot the throbbing pain in my ankle. Not once during our walk did he complain about my weight or take Jared up on his offer to switch. I had been happy to stay in his arms during the long car ride to the hospital where I was diagnosed with a fractured tibia. For the rest of the summer Ian insisted on carrying me around when we were out together. I remember pouting at his refusal to let me walk the short distance between our two houses one hot summer afternoon, when I questioned him he claimed carrying me was good exercise. I laughed it off then only now I recall his arms around me in a whole new light.
"I never meant to hurt you sweetheart, I just wanted to keep you safe. You deserve so much better than those assholes." His words break through my thoughts and I turn my face up to meet his eyes suddenly aware of just how close we are. I can feel each breath cooling my tear-stained face, my eyes stray to his lips unconsciously. A pink tongue flicks out to wet the lush pillows of skin enticing my stomach to clench sweetly.
"And Wes?" I whisper while his eyes darken to midnight under my stare. "Was was going to hurt me?"
I have no idea how I manage to get the words past the swelling in my throat, but I do and I can't take them back however much I may want to.
"Don't ask questions you're not ready to hear the answers to."
His words force me back a step like a physical blow. My fingers unlock from around his abdomen causing me to slide down his body and out of his arms. He lets me go if not reluctantly. Dark unreadable eyes lock with mine holding me hostage, reading between my thoughts. He seems to be searching for something but what I don't know.
What had he meant by that, I wonder. Dozens of possibilities come to mind, each more horrible than the last. My heat thumps painfully against my ribs and my breaths come in choked pants between each agonizing beat. Hatful tears gather in my eyes once more but I press my lids together, breaking our connection to prevent their escape. I want to run back home but his gaze captivates me once more, holding me in place with invisible bonds. I can see the tense line of his impossibly broad shoulders and the way his hands clench in a white knuckled grip at his sides.
He is in pain. The ache in my chest tightens and I know I want to ease that pain. The realization makes me bold. Reaching out with trembling fingers I go to touch his chest but he beats me to it. Everything blurs until I am in his arms, being lifted until my feet dangle several inches off the ground. My arms wrap around his neck of their own accord and before I can process his movements, lips crash down on mine with enough force to steal the breath from my starving lungs.
My body goes numb, unresponsive under his assault. As though from a distance I watch his bare arms encircle my tinny waist and crush me from thigh to chest against his much larger frame. Then, all at once the world returns in a rush of feeling. Fire explodes from every nerve ending while tiny light dance behind my closed lids. Molten lava licks at my skin where our bodies touch making my skin feel too tight and itchy. Without conscious thought my fingers bury themselves in the soft hair at the base of his neck, the cords of which jump and dance under my finger tips. He nibbles and suckles at my bottom lip until it is puffy and sore, the sensation elicits a moan from my throat. One hand leaves my waist, tangles in my hair, cradling my neck to positioning my head so he can deepen the kiss further. With a gasp my lips part allowing his tongue to slide against my own in a tantalizing play of pure passion that leaves me reeling from the thrill of it all.
I have imagined my first kiss, dreamed of what it would feel like but his touch surpasses anything I could have dreamed up,. In this moment I have never felt so alive, flying high above the clouds but I feel anchored still, protected and cherished her in the circle of his arms.
When oxygen became a necessary evil we brake apart but not too far. We stare at each other, breathing the same air, both too shocked by our actions to speak.
Is this what he meant? Is this what he was afraid to tell me?
Slowly the world comes back into focus. Mortification settles in when I realize we are in a public park and that anyone could have walked by to see us wrapped in one another arms, Ian devouring me like a man starving while I held on for dear life.
Sensing the change in me Ian seems to realize exactly what we are doing and where. With a groan his arms loosen and I slowly slide down his body for the second time in ten minuets. Only this time I am acutely aware of the effect our kisses have had on him, a hard-line of flesh presses insistently against my stomach. Oh my…I think with a shudder.
"I'm sorry." He apologizes, completely misinterpreting my shudder for one of disgust.
"No don't apologize, its fine…really." I stammer out, and it really is fine, better than fine in fact. It's empowering to know I am capable of eliciting this kind of reaction from a man, from Ian.
He is back to searching my face and for the first time I feel no need to hide from him; instead I let him see what his touch has done to me. The small frown that turned down the corners of his generous mouth as he studies me flips into a wide grin that sends my calming heart galloping into motion once more. Unexpectedly he collapses to the ground and with a squeak of surprise he pulls me down with him, arranging my small body until he has me situated on his lap with my legs stretched out over his bent knee and my torso turned to admire his naked chest.
"Do you have any idea how long I have wanted to do that?" He whispers, nuzzling my nose in an Eskimo kiss. I can't help but giggle at his absurd statement.
"No. I had no idea you felt…like this for me." I can't meet his gaze, my shyness returning with blazing intensity.
Ian squeezes my waist and leans in until his forehead rests against mine, drawing my eye back to him. I sigh into his touch, enjoying the way his fingers card through my hair, smoothing it back from my sweat dampened neck.
"I didn't want you to." He confides with down cast eyes.
Unable to resist I lean forward, brushing my lips against his once more. This all feels like a dream. I need the touch of his lips to tether me to earth. I have spent so much time mourning Jared and hoping for Wes that I never once stopped to notice that nether one of them has ever made me feel the way Ian does. I have always felt more alive, stronger, and surer of myself with Ian than I have with Jared or anyone else for that matter. It seems impossible that I have never seen it before now but as Ian said, he hadn't wanted me to guess his feelings for me.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I ask in wonder.
"I didn't know in the beginning." He ducks his head, almost bashful. "I thought I was protecting you. Then I realized that I was actually protecting myself. I didn't want anyone else to have you because I wanted you for myself. Do you remember when you broke your ankle?" I nod with my heart in my throat. "It killed me to see you in pain and I knew you wanted Jared but it burned me up inside to think of him touching you let alone carrying you. So I whisked you away before he could. You fit in my arms perfectly, just like I always knew you would. I used every excuse I could think of to hold you again after that. When you got your cast off I honestly think I went through Wanda withdraws." He teases with a mischievous smirk which I reward with a beaming smile of my own.
"I would have made my move then but I was about to head off to ASU and it wouldn't have been fair to ether of us to start something that I wouldn't be around to finish. When I came back for spring break last week and you were still single I planned on asking you out. Then Wes called. I knew how much he liked you and that he wanted to ask you to prom and I just...flipped. You have to know that I never wanted to hurt you, but I'm a selfish creature at heart when it comes to you." He kisses my hand sweetly by way of an apology, my skin tingles where his lips make contact and I know I would forgive him anything.
"What did you say to him?"
"I may have threatened to hurt him just a bit." At my appalled look he clarifies, "but I wouldn't have gone through with it, I promise." I believe him. Ian is strong and more than capable of defending himself but I have never met anyone with a more caring nature. I know he wouldn't have hurt Wes if he had refused to back off. That doesn't mean that it wasn't a bit hurtful that Wes had given in to Ian's threats, although I know first hand how convincing Ian is when he wants something.
A feeling of content settles over me and I snuggle deeper in Ian's warm embrace. The arm supporting my back hugs me closer as I breathe him in, letting the sweet musk of his skin settle my lingering nerves. This is right; this is what I have longed for all along.
"So, since you haven't run away screaming yet, can I assume that if I were to ask you to prom you would say yes?"
"That depends...are you asking me to prom?" A coy smile settles into place while I peer up at him through long platinum lashes. My plan has the desired affect; Ian's sapphire orbs darken to cobalt, his pink tongue peaks out to wet his lips before curving in mock seriousness.
"Will you, Wanda Stryder," he begins, taking my hand and holding it against his heart. "allow me the honor of escorting you to prom?" He finishes with a slow kiss to my knuckles.
"Yes!" I chirp happily before he kisses me with enough passion to curl my toes and send my heart soaring into the stratosphere.
The sun beats down on our backs and the birds sing above us but nether one of us noticed, we have years of missed chances to make up for.
I have an idea for a follow-up if anyone is interested. Please read and review! Come on, you know you want to. *wink*