Okay so I know a couple of people haven't been able to access this chapter in English and the download links are scare. So I decided to post this up. Enjoy!
I'm all alone.
It's dark. I can't remember where I am . . . or why I'm here. It's wrong that I'm alone. Where is Wanda? I can't see to look for her. I can't remember how to call for her. It's silent. I can't feel her. I can't feel our body.
Panic starts to set in as I wait for her voice. For her to say my name. To tell me where we are. To open my eyes so we can see. I need to hear her voice — my voice, in my softest tone, my gentlest inflection.
I wait, but there is nothing. Just me and the dark.
The panic gets worse as I try to remember. Did she shut me out again? That happened once, I know, but I don't remember it. I don't think it was like this, panicking in the dark. It was just nothing then.
And I don't think Wanda would do that. Because we love other. I remember we said that. Just before . . . something. I tried to dredge up the memory.
We were saying we loved each other. . . . We were saying .. .
My memory comes back clear and strong, and at the same time, rest of me does, too. I can feel the cot under me, I can feel the sweat on my skin raising goose bumps in the cooler night air. I can see a light redly through the membrane of my eyelids. I can hear myself breathing. I can hear a voice getting louder, like someone is pushing a volume button.
The memory is stronger than my senses. The memory is agony.
I couldn't stop her. She died for me, and there was nothing I could do. It's too late that I can move the muscles in my fingers, that I can curl my hands into fists. It's too late. Wanda is gone. She saved me I didn't save her.
I don't listen to the nearby voice that is getting louder. I don't care in this second, about the hands that are smoothing out my fists. I am hearing Wanda's voice in my memory, thinking her last thought. It's just an echo in my head now, the way I can remember anyone's voice. She's not here
I'm so afraid, she said.
I feel her fear again, remembering.
I let her be lost. I did that.
I remember her reasoning. I remember how she made the decision to die to let me live: she couldn't exist at the expense of someone she loved.
And now I'm supposed to do this — live at the expense of her life? How is this the happy ending? With me the monster who lets friend, my very best friend, die for me?
"Mel? Mel, I love you. Mel, come back. Mel, Mel, Mel."
It is Jared's voice, trying to call me back the way Wanda called back the Healer's host, the way she taught Kyle to call to Jodi.
I can answer him. I can speak now. I can feel my tongue in my mouth, ready to move into whatever shape I ask it to. I can feel the air in my lungs, ready to push out the words. If I want this.
"Mel, I love you, I love you."
This is Wanda's gift to me, paid for with her silver blood. Jared and I, put together again as if she'd never lived. As if she hadn't saved us both.
If I accept this gift, I profit from her death. I kill her again. I take her sacrifice and make it murder.
"Mel, please? Open your eyes."
I feel his hand on my face, cradling my cheek. I feel his lips burn against my forehead, but I don't want them. Not at this price.
Or do I?
If I had wanted to save Wanda enough, would I have thought of a way? Just like she thought of a way to save the vile Seeker. Because she did want it enough. Maybe I didn't didn't really want to save the truest friend I ever had — and that was why I didn't find a way.
Maybe murder is exactly the right word.
Wanda cried as she said her good-byes. My eyes still feel raw and puffy. New tears follow the path of the old ones and slide down my temples.
"Mel? Doc, c'mere! I think she's in pain!"
Doc is still in the hospital. I hear him walk quickly toward me. And my eyes are still raw. Wait. How much time has passed? A few hours or just a few minutes? Am I not too late?
My eyes flicker open, and Jared's face is close, his eyes tight with worry, his lips just parting to speak again. He sees that I'm aware of him, and whatever he was going to say is lost.
I shove hard against his chest and he rocks back, unprepared for that. I sit up into the space where he just was, my gaze raking the room, searching for some sign of her — a flash of silver, a shine of movement. Is she dying somewhere here beside me right now? Is there any chance I'm in time?
"Mel?" Jared asks again, grabbing my right wrist and reaching for my left.
"Where is she?" I hiss, trying to yank free while I slide off the other side of the cot. I don't feel dizzy or unbalanced on my feet. Maybe I haven't been out very long at all.
He stares at me, shocked, still holding on to my wrist with his arm stretched across the cot. I only meet his eyes for a half second and then I'm looking frantically around Doc's cave again, grateful the bright halogen lantern is still burning.
I don't see the brilliant silver I wish for. It's not here. But then my eyes do find something metallic. A duller silver than I want. A hard, flat, sharp metal blade.
I recognize Jared's big hunting knife lying at the head of the cot beside me, an easy distance away. This is the knife that Wanda gouged into our arm to save Jamie. This is the knife that Jared carries on him only when he leaves the caves. This is a knife that has no business here in Doc's hospital.
The mutilated souls in my memory, in Wanda's memory, fill my head, and I gasp in shock as strong as hers was then, maybe stronger. What had happened to those stranger souls was not entirely surprising, unless you were as innocent as Wanda had been. This there is no excuse for. This is senseless and crueler than anything I've ever dreamed of.
Is Jared insane? Did he never believe us? Does he still think Wanda was a spy, even now that she's died for us? For him? Was he playing her till the end?
Or did he think he was putting her out of her pain? Was she twisting with it? Writhing in agony while I slept? A choked cry coughs its way up my throat and through my lips.
Jared circles the head of the cot, never freeing my wrist, and tries to pull me into the circle of his arm.
"Mel, baby, it's okay. You're back."
He's got my right hand, so instead of punching, I throw out a vicious backhand with my left, catching his face across the cheekbone. The force of the blow stings in the bones of my hand.
He sucks in a shocked breath and jumps back, dropping my wrist. Freed now I follow the first hit with a good, strong uppercut that glances off the side of his jaw as he ducks away.
Long ago I told Wanda I didn't think I'd be able to hit Jared, no matter what. Now all I want is to hit him harder.
There is no internal protest to my fury the way I almost expect, no innate sense of wrong, and this only makes me more furious.
"How could you?" I screech at him as I swing again, missing this time because he is on his guard now. "What is wrong with you? How could you kill her?"
I remember the souls I've seen, the Seeker and the Healer, and I can only see them through Wanda's perspective. Beautiful, fragile, downy silver ribbons. Wanda would have been beautiful like that. And then I think of the mangled silver bodies . . . .
Someone — Doc — tries to grabs my arms as I lurch toward Jared with fists leading. I throw back an elbow. I feel the impact and hear him gasp when I connect, and his hands drop away.
"You killed her!" I shout at them both. And then I'm echoing her "You're monsters! Monsters!"
"Mel!" Jared shouts back. "Listen!"
I lunge for him, and he moves quickly out of my way, hands out as though he's going to try to restrain me. I consider for just a second ducking back for the knife, and some part of me realizes that I'm out of control, but I don't want to be rational. Not with Wanda dead — dead for me — and me still breathing.
"Mel, please just —"
"How could you do this? How?"
Another swing and a miss. Jared is fast.
A huge shape abruptly rises up beside me. From the corner of my eye I see that the cot in this shadowed recess is occupied. Jodi's vacant face, eyes closed, surrounded by dark curls, has come within range of my attack. And Kyle, one arm still holding Sunny's tank, steps between Jodi and me. Protecting the body of the girl he loves, and the hibernating soul he is so unexpectedly sympathetic to. He doesn't make a move toward me the way I expect.
I still remember the feel of his big hands pushing my face under water.
Even Kyle is able to learn. How can Jared be stupider, stubborner, crueler than Kyle?
I automatically skid back a step from Kyle, and Jared takes advantage of my distraction. He gets my wrist again and pulls my arm behind me. I can tell he is being careful, that he doesn't want to hurt me. This isn't like that first night we met, when we each thought the other was an alien. When we were ready to kill each other. But his hold brings that first
night back. And I don't really want to hurt him anymore, but I'm so angry I don't know if I can help it.
I can't be the person who will accept Wanda's death as the price for what I want. I won't be.
"Melanie," Kyle snaps in his deep voice. He sounds annoyed. I'm so shocked to hear him say my name that I don't interrupt.
"Calm down!" he orders. "Wanda's fine. She's right over there."
I stare at him. I feel my mouth fall open.
He gestures to Doc's desk, where there are three cryotanks, all of them glowing dull red on top. Two are spaced evenly in the center the way I remember, and there is another one set apart in the far left corner. I stare at the three tanks, then at the one in Kyle's arm. Four. Two Healers, Sunny, and one more.
I burst into tears.
The alien who has become my sister is alive. She's right here, and now that I have control of my hands, I can make sure she never disappears. Make sure she'll outlive us all.
Jared drops my wrist and moves to embrace me, but I shake him off and stumble away from him, past Doc, and head for Wanda. I pull her tank carefully into my arms and hold her tight. She doesn't know I'm here, but someday — someday soon — I will tell her about this moment. I'll tell her that I didn't want my body back until I knew I could use it to protect her.
"Mel," Jared says from behind me. He's more hesitant now; his fingers press only lightly against my arm.
I don't turn.
"Give me a minute," I say thickly.
He waits silently. His fingers stay, soft against my skin.
I take a few deep breaths and try to come to grips with this new reality. Wanda is safe, and I will bring her back. I am me again, what I always wanted. Jared is here with me. Our family is, thanks to Wanda, intact. I have everything. There is no one in my head but me.
So of course I feel horribly alone. I don't know if I'm going to be able to stop crying. I wish I could hear Wanda telling me that everything is okay. I promised her I would be happy, but I don't feel happy. Just lonely.
"Miss you," I whisper to the warm metal in my arms.
It is quiet for a minute in Doc's cave. I can feel them hovering behind me, unsure.
"What happened?" I ask, still not turning.
"I got here in time," Jared answers.
I don't entirely understand this. "Doc?" I say, and my voice sounds strained.
"I gave my word . . . um, Melanie. I'm sorry, I don't really . . . know you."
I turn to face him as he is speaking. He's blushing a little, and he can't quite meet my eyes
"I don't know how well you know me," he continues. "How much a part you were of the relationship I had with Wanda." He clears his throat. "But she knew how much that — my word — meant to me. And I believe I know how much it meant to her that I keep my promise. She wanted to die here."
Now he looks me straight in the eye.
"She was wrong," I say through my teeth.
Doc matches my glare for a moment, then sighs and shrugs. "I guess I'm relieved that Jared stopped me. I hope she'll forgive me."
My laugh is a little rusty. "She's good at forgiving people."
I look at Jared. "You followed her?"
He nods. "I could tell something was up."
He eyes me, hesitant, and I can tell he's trying to decide if he's allowed to hold me yet.
I'm not quite ready for that. I look at the knife and then back at him.
"Doc didn't want to do things my way," Jared explains, and Doc rubs a hand nervously over his throat.
I raise one eyebrow, impressed in spite of myself.
Jared seems surprised that I am surprised.
"I love her, too," he says. "I wouldn't let anything happen to her while you were out. No matter what crazy plan she'd set in motion.
And it's just like the moment when Jared snuck into Jamie's black sickroom and chloroformed Doc, and Wanda and I knew that he understood, that he believed, that he was who we needed him to he. He is my Jared, and of course he saved Wanda just the way I would have in his place. I know what Wanda would say about this — about my finding comfort in violence — and it almost makes me smile.
Jared sees this emotion fill my eyes, soften my face, and he takes that small step forward to put his arms around me — around both of us, since I'm still holding Wanda. This time, I let him. I more than let him — I melt into him, drying my tear-streaked face against his shoulder.
"Thank you," I whisper.
Jared kisses the top of my head.
It's quiet. I hear the creaking of a cot, and I guess that Kyle is lying down, going back to sleep. That must be why he sounded so annoyed before. I woke him up. Who cares about all this drama with Doc and Jared and a new person he's never met, when he's missing sleep? I want to laugh at his self-absorption. I don't think I will make the allowances for Kyle that Wanda did. I'm not so forgiving.
With my face still pressing into Jared's shoulder, I suddenly wonder what Doc thinks of this reunion. I imagine him standing awkwardly, looking away. Or maybe I'm wrong and he's staring, trying to wrap his head around who I am now. Wanda imagined the way the humans would react to me. She expected me to be embraced by them, surrounded by them, trusted and celebrated. I wonder if she had it right. I can definitely feel a slight chilliness from Doc now, but maybe this is because of Jared and the knife, and not me at all. Or maybe it has everything to do with me. Maybe Wanda's friends won't like me so much. All the best people here, I labeled them. Will any of them forgive me for taking her place? Stealing the body they think of as hers?
Will Jamie? I think so. He loves me. I know that. But how will he feel when he sees Wanda in a small metal tank? Will he be happy to have me back when — to him — I was never really gone?
We need a body. Jamie will be fine when Wanda herself tells him everything is okay.
I don't even want to think about Ian. He doesn't love me the way Jamie does. I don't think Ian even likes me. He might actually hate me. Or he will, when he wakes up and she's gone.
I promised Wanda I would try to take care of Ian, but I feel in my bones that he won't allow that. How can I apologize in any meaningful way while I'm standing in this body and Wanda's in a can?
We need a body fast.
There is another reason I don't want to think about Ian. I remember kissing him, just a few minutes ago, probably, and I remember it feeling right. Part of me misses him already. Part of me wants him here.
I shudder in Jared's arms, and he holds me tighter.
"It's all going to be okay," Jared promises.
I believe him. I inhale the scent of his skin and know this is where I want to be.
I am too exhausted now to think about Ian. I am too tired to do anything but rest my head against Jared's arm and let him hold me.
This is going to be confusing.
Kyle's big voice, too loud even when he is trying to whisper, is pulling me into consciousness. I'm lying down. I feel disoriented, like the first time I woke up. How long have I been asleep now?
"Look at me, Jodi. Please, honey? I need you to open your eyes. I need you to do this for me, Jodi. Please. Please. Squeeze my hand. Something."
Kyle's voice breaks as my eyes flutter open. The tarps are still in place over the air vents. They keep the sun from being too blinding. It's morning, but the light is yellow and not orange. Well past dawn.
I guess it's not surprising that I slept so long; Wanda was up for days in this body. It was worn through. But this is terrible timing for a sleep-in day.
Will Ian be up? Is he looking for me?
Not for me. For Wanda.
I sit up too fast, and my head spins while I search the cave for Wanda. I spy the tank on the cot next to mine.
"It's okay," Jared murmurs in a soothing voice — the kind of voice you use with sick people and scared children. "She's right here. She's not going anywhere."
Jared is leaning against the cot on my other side. He is smiling, the corners of his eyes crinkling. There is still a residue of caution in those eyes, He isn't sure he knows me as well as he did before. He's not sure how much Wanda has changed me.
There is a purple bruise forming across his right cheekbone.
I clear the sleep from my throat and croak, "Sorry. And thanks. Again."
"I love you," he answers. The way he says the words makes them into something more than reassurance. It's almost a challenge.
"I love you, too," I tell him. I roll my eyes. "Obviously."
He grins. This is all he needs. He pulls me off the cot and into his chest.
I hug him back, but it feels like cheating. I don't get to enjoy anything yet. There is too much I've put off while I slept. It hangs over me like a jail sentence. Something that must be endured before anything else can continue.
"What?" Jared asks, feeling me stiffen as I think of what I have to do. "I want to understand what you're going through now. Talk to me."
He sounds so serious and determined — determined to be a therapist, if that's what I need.
"It's nothing very complicated," I say, and I sigh. "Ian."
His arms are rigid for a second, and then he forces himself to relax. I see a doubt on his face that has never been there before.
"He needs to know. The longer I wait to tell him —"
"It's still early. He might not be up yet. Let's go look for him." Immediate action, Jared's specialty.
"I need to talk to him alone first. I have to explain."
Jared mulls for a moment.
"I don't like it," he finally says. His words are slower and more deliberate than usual. "He'll be angry. Real angry."
"I'm going with you."
"No. That would hurt him more." I am sure of this. And also sure that I have nothing physical to fear from Ian. I know him better than that. "And don't follow me like you followed Wanda. This is straightforward. He just needs to hear it from me first."
Jared nods once, guarded. That doubt is there again. I don't think there is anything I can say to take it away. Words are not enough, especially after this long year of someone else's words coming out of my mouth. Eventually, Jared will be sure that nothing has changed between us just because Wanda was in my body when she fell in love with Ian. Time and action — those are the things that will convince him. And me.I take his face between my hands and kiss him once mouth, and then a second time lightly — just touching my lips to his bruise.
The sensation of the jail sentence is too strong for me to linger, though. I have to get this over with before I can really let myself feel him here with me. I can't be happy with this looming over me. The pleasure is corrupted to the point where it's pain.
Jared squeezes my arm as I turn away from him. I walk past Doc, who is snoring quietly on the last cot. I head out into the long southern tunnel and am immediately hit with a heavy sense of the surreal.
I never expected to do this again — walk through this darkness. The last time felt so final. Rationally, I must have been aware that the whole point was for me to wake up, get off the cot, and walk back into the caves. But it feels impossible and strange and wrong now.
The tunnel is long again and a little bit frightening, the way it hadn't been for Wanda for a long time.
As I walk quickly, my mind races ahead to what I am going to say to Ian. Will he still be asleep? Should I knock? I can't remember if Wanda put the door back in place when she left.
I picture him, his limbs flung out on the mattress the way he always sleeps, his black hair sticking out in wild tufts, his pale eyelids shut. It is easier to imagine him with his eyes closed. I am afraid to see his bright blue eyes, because I know how the pain will look in those eyes. The pain and the anger and all the accusations that I absolutely deserve.
I start walking faster, almost jogging. I want to get to him before he wakes up. I want to have a few seconds to see his face before he opens his eyes and starts hating me. I'm jogging outright when I turn the corner into the bright plaza. It will be my first time in this room and also my thousandth. I am pondering this as I run smack into Ian.
He catches my arms automatically, to keep me from falling backward. He looks down and begins a smile.
The expression freezes on his face. His hands drop from my arms like he's just gotten an electric shock.
Though I know I look exactly the same as Wanda — without direct light, my eyes don't give me away — it's clear that he knows. He knew the second he touched me, and the information only reached his brain after he'd started that smile.
He steps back from me, still half smiling, though there is no humor in his expression at all. It's like the rictus grin of a corpse left unfinished by an indifferent mortician.
We stare at each other.
I can't tell how long we stand like this. His smile gets more and more painful by the second, until I can't bear it. Finally I speak, babbling the first words I can think of.
"She's fine. She's in a tank. We'll get her a body. She'll be fine. Fine. She's fine." By the end, my voice is tiny. Barely more than a whisper.
As I speak, his face relaxes. Sort of. The hard smile dissolves, the corners of his mouth sag down. His frozen blue eyes thaw out. But his face also tenses in new ways. Lines around the edges of his eyes. Black brows align into one long block.
He doesn't answer. We stare at each other again, but it's not the motionless, icy thing it was before.
My arms ache to reach out to him. To exercise some physical expression of comfort. I half lift them and drop them again. My hands twitch toward him, and I ball them into fists.
He is moving in almost the same way. He leans toward me just a little, then recoils subtly. He does this three times as we face each other.
I wait for his accusations: You made her suffer because of me. You were petty. You knew her weak points and you used them. You let her sacrifice herself. She's a hundred times the person you are.
All true. I will not argue with him. I will plead guilty.
He doesn't say anything.
Is this restraint for her sake, because he knows she wouldn't approve? Or is he just being polite, the way you are to a stranger?
He still doesn't speak, and I start to wonder if he simply can't. If there are no words for the pain that is easy to read, now, in his eyes.
"Do you want to . . . go to her?" I offer.
He doesn't answer, but the pain in his eyes shifts a little. Becomes . . . bewilderment. His hand rises slightly, then falls.
"She's with Doc," I murmur. I turn halfway, back toward the southern tunnel.
I take a step sideways, leading. He follows with one jerky motion.
Walking slowly, still sideways, I move into the darkness. He follows, his stride becoming more sure. Once we're in the dark, I turn to face forward. I keep my tread light, listening to be sure he is with me. His footsteps sound stronger. He starts to speed up. After a few moments, I'm following him.
In the dark it is easier. Like his eyes are closed. We walk in silence, but it feels more comfortable. I was invisible to him before, but I was always there, walking beside him. It feels the same now that I'm invisible again.
"I couldn't stop her," I say after maybe half a mile.
He surprises me by — after a short hesitation — answering me.
"Did you want to?"
His voice is husky, like maybe he couldn't risk speaking before because of what it would do to his self-control, and I'm even more glad I can't see him.
We walk slower, not speaking for a while. I wonder what it's like for him, hearing my voice. He sounds like my friend, but I must sound like something very different to him.
"Why?" he asks eventually.
"Because she . . . is my best friend."
His voice is different when he speaks again. Calmer. "I wondered about that."
I don't say anything, hoping he'll explain. After a minute, he does.
"I wondered if anyone who really knew her could not love her. You knew her every thought."
"Yes." I answer the question he didn't ask. "I love her."
He hesitates, then asks, "But you must have wanted your body back?"
"Not if it meant losing Wanda."
He digests this for a moment. The soles of his shoes are suddenly hitting harder against the stone floor, and I have to move faster to keep up with him.
"She's not leaving this planet," he growls.
That other plan — the one that was never more than a fabrication in our head — is so far from my thoughts that it takes me a second to understand.
"That was never her intention," I say, meaning to agree with him.
He says nothing, but his silence is a question. He walks slower again.
I try to explain. "She was making that part up, so you all wouldn't argue with her. She wanted to stay here. . . . She planned to, well, be buried here. With Walter and Wes."
His silence is heavier this time. He's stopped altogether.
I hurry to explain. "But she's fine, like I said. Doc put her in a tank. We'll get her a body. Soon. First thing."
But he's not listening. "How could she think of doing that to me?" he hisses furiously.
"No," I say softly. "It wasn't like that. She felt like she would be hurting you more if she stayed here . . . in this body."
"That's ridiculous. How could she want to die rather than leave?"
"She loves it here," I say softly. "She doesn't want to live anywhere else."
Ian is very angry — angry with Wanda, which offends me. His words are sharp. "I never thought of her as such a quitter."
"She's not," I snap, and then I immediately feel guilty. I have no right to get mad at Ian. So I speak slowly, measuring out my words, trying to make him see. "Wanda . . . She thinks she's tired of being a parasite, but I think she was just plain tired. She was so worn out, Ian. More than she let anyone see. Losing Wes like that . . . It was a lot for her. She blamed herself —"
"But she didn't have anything to do with —"
"Try telling her that!" I realize that I've barked at him again, and I take a deep breath. "Then having to face the Seeker. It was tougher than you know. But more than any of that, loving you while . . . loving Jared. Loving Jamie and thinking he needed me more. Loving me. Feeling like she was hurting us all just by breathing. I don't think you can understand what that was like for her, because you're human. You can't imagine how she . . . she . . ." I can't find the right words, and my throat suddenly feels swollen.
"I think I know what you mean." His voice is softer now. His antagonism is gone. Ian is not one to hold on to anger.
"So she really needed a break, but she got all — all melodramatic about it. And I thought I couldn't save her." My voice breaks. I take a deep breath. "I didn't know Jared was following us."
When I say Jared's name, I hear the tiniest whisper of sound in the darkness. Almost like . . . a muffled, stuttered step. And I realize that, just as with Wanda, Jared isn't going to sit on a cot and twiddle his thumbs while I walk into a potentially dangerous situation. Not
that this is dangerous at all, but Jared doesn't know Ian the way I do. And, to be fair, if the situation were somehow reversed, I probably would have done exactly the same thing. And if he'd unexpectedly said something about me following him, I might have stumbled, too. I roll my eyes in the darkness.
Ian doesn't notice. He sighs. "Jared caught on, but I missed it."
"Jared's just overly cautious. Always. He goes overboard. Way, way overboard." This is for him. So he knows he's been caught.
"But he was right," Ian said.
"Yes." And I huff out a huge sigh of relief, thinking of how close a thing it was. "Paranoia comes in handy sometimes."
We walk quietly for a few minutes. I try to hear Jared, but he's being careful now, totally soundless.
"Do you think she'll be angry with us when she wakes up?" Ian asks.
I snort. "Wanda, angry? Please."
"Unhappy, then?" he asks more quietly.
"She'll be fine," I assure him, because I know she won't be able to help being happy when she knows that's what we all want. It's just the way she's built. But I don't feel bad about taking advantage of her nature, because I also know this is what she really wants, under all the self-sacrifice. What she'd let herself want if she were a teensy bit more selfish.
"What you said before, about her loving you, and Jamie, and Jared . . . and me."
"Do you think she really does love me, or was she just responding to the fact that I love her? Wanting to make me happy?"
He understands her. He knows her better than anyone but me.
"I'm only asking because I don't want to be a . . . a burden when she wakes up." He waits a moment for my response, and when I don't say anything, he continues. "Don't worry about hurting my feelings. I want the truth."
"It's not your feelings I'm worried about. I'm just trying to think of the right way to describe it. I've been . . . not entirely human for the past year, so I get it, but I'm not sure you do."
"It's strong, Ian. The way she feels about you is something else. She loves this world, but so much of the reason she couldn't leave was really you. She thinks of you as her anchor. You gave her a reason to finally stay in one place after a lifetime of wandering."
He takes a deep breath. When he speaks, I hear peace in his voice for the first time. "Then that's all right."
A pause, and then he says, "Don't rush."
We are rounding the corner toward the light of Doc's hospital. I can feel an itch in my palms to touch her tank again. To make sure.
"When you go to find her a body. Take your time. Make sure you find one she'll be happy in. I can wait."
I look up at him. I can see his expression now. His face is calm.
"Won't you be coming with us?" I ask, startled. I realize I've been picturing him as a part of the next step. Imagining him on one side, Jared on the other, the way it was in our last raid.
He shakes his head as we walk up to the big bright hole that is the entrance to the hospital.
"I don't really care about that part. You know what she needs. And
I'd rather be here with her."
Part of me is hurt that he will not come with me, that he will be here with Wanda instead, but I'm not sure if I'm jealous of his time or of hers.
We step into the light, and there is Jared, the picture of innocent curiosity, leaning against the cot where Wanda's tank is sitting. Ian walks straight for her. Jared takes a careful step out of his way. In the shadows, Kyle watches with hollow eyes. Doc is still sleeping.
Ian lifts the tank with incredible care. I hear him exhale. With relief. With sadness. With hope.
"Thanks," he says in Jared's direction, but he doesn't look away from her tank.
"I owe her," Jared responds.
Then Jared looks at me, one brow raised. A question.
I take one deep breath and walk to him. Yes, I answer with my smile. Yes, I am allowed to be happy now. Yes, I love you, too. Yes.
I put one arm around his waist, but my other hand sneaks away. My fingers trace across the warm metal in Ian's arms.
I feel strong again. This will be put right. Soon.
And then I'll be able to tell Wanda all about it.