Chapter 13: Villager
Chelsea wasn't done with me immediately. The "snip snip" part was fast - bolstering the relationships she wanted me to have took longer. Brooke stood patiently, cradling me, while I tried to rally my scattered thoughts and think of something to do.
Seeds. Chelsea needed "seeds " to do any more damage, to work in the opposite direction - and why hadn't I felt anything, surely this should feel like something - where did I hear the thing about seeds? That didn't matter, I'd heard it, it felt like reliable information. But what counted as a seed? If I felt sorry for Brooke, would that be enough for Chelsea to make me think Brooke was my best friend whose loyalties I should adopt as my own and who I couldn't bear to betray? If I missed Cody, was that enough for her to erase the notion that there had been anything about his abandoning the free pack I should disapprove of? Just how did she work? How did I make the seeds go away, if I even could?
It still didn't feel like anything. I couldn't even tell what was happening, or how quickly, or where it was too late and where I still had a chance to interfere if that was even possible. Chelsea just looked at me with that unchanging, soft smile, and murmured inanities about how Jacob and I would be responsible for keeping our suite clean, and how I could submit requests to the cafeteria staff if I wanted specific dishes, and how I was to be allowed internet but would need to pay for a computer on my own if I didn't want to borrow other people's...
A couple of minutes went by with this one-sided small talk. "I think that will do," Chelsea said. "To begin with, at least. Brooke can take you to Jacob."
I did want to see Jacob. I felt bad about running off without him. He had to have been out of his mind with worry, and while I felt helpless in a lot of ways, I knew I was the only person qualified to make him feel better. Brooke smiled at Chelsea, then ducked her head politely - I had the impression that she'd have bowed, if she hadn't been trying to carry me comfortably - and turned to take me back to South from the assembly room.
"Do you think he'll be awake?" I asked Brooke. We turned into the hall where my and Jacob's suite was. We were right next to Quil and Claire on one side, and Albert Greene - the one whose sister had died - and his imprint and daughter on the other. Across the hall were Jared and Kim.
"By now, if he's not awake yet, you can wake him. Can you get the door? My hands are full," she teased, and I reached out and turned the handle.
The door opened into a small living space, with more doors leading to a bathroom and two bedrooms. All the doors were open, and I could see Jacob, sprawled sleeping on top of a crazy-quilt. "Jacob?" I said.
"Bwuh?" He yawned hugely and opened his eyes, then broke into a huge grin. "Elspeth!" He hauled himself to his feet and walked around the little table in the living area, but then brought himself up short. "Why is Brooke carrying you?"
I decided that no good could come of setting him at Santiago's throat. If nothing else, he'd get torn to bits if he tried to go after her for revenge. I didn't expect it to happen again and I was nearly healed, anyway. "There was a fight. I got in the way, and my legs were hurt, but they're almost set right. I should be walking just fine in the morning," I said, which was all true and would probably not get anyone killed.
"Here, you can hold her," Brooke offered, and Jacob carefully transferred me from her arms to his. I thanked her, and she smiled at me perkily and left us alone.
"How're you doing?" Jacob asked, softly.
I sighed a deep sigh. "It's been a very long ten days. I guess it should calm down from here, shouldn't it?"
The next day was the first of June. When I woke up, I tentatively put weight on one foot, then the other, and found myself in normal working order. Jacob was still asleep. In fact, everyone was still asleep, with the probable exception of Cody. I let myself out of the suite and wandered the halls. It was peaceful, although I got lonely soon after leaving the suite. Not wanting to be alone, nor inclined to wake anybody up, I veered over to East in case Cody was out of his and Seth's room.
He wasn't when I passed the door, but it opened in response to my footfalls and Cody stepped out. "I thought that might be you, O world's most interesting half-vampire," he said softly, and then he smiled and held his arms forth for a hug.
I hugged him readily. "Good morning," I said. "What is there for early birds to do around here?"
Cody showed me where in the cafeteria the midnight snacks were kept. "But if you can, it'd be a good idea to start actually eating three meals a day," he said. "A lot of the social life around here seems to happen at mealtimes, which feels weird to me even though I know it's perfectly ordinary, because we didn't usually have meals back when we were meandering around in the hiding place. So far all I've managed is to eat light when I wake up and then eat again at lunchtime, but I'm working on it."
I nibbled on fruit and crackers to imitate this pattern; he'd already had his breakfast, but sat with me and talked about being with his siblings again. "I got older, and I look like I got more older than I did," he laughed. "They look exactly the same as they did when I left - well, maybe Seth is a little more filled out now. But sometimes Leah'll call me "Cody-kiddo" or Seth'll pull a goofy face, and it's like I'm a month old again asking for wolf rides. Got one, too, for old time's sake, my second day here. Seth careened through the halls like somebody set his fur on fire and this could be solved by running very fast. Public safety warning: being on fire cannot be solved by running very fast."
I giggled. "Are you doing any of the jobs?" I asked.
"Yeah, actually, or - sort of," Cody replied. "It's unconventional... I'm now the designated guy-who-turns-people-who-need-turning. Vampires have way more trouble than we do controlling themselves around blood. Even old, well-fed vampires, compared to halfsies even just my age or yours, are a little more likely to bite and then swallow. So it's safer to have me do the job."
"No, I'm kidding," he said, grinning at me. "Silly goose - they're all about the highly medicalized turnings now, syringes and whatnot. Plus I'm not sure I'd like to be the one to chomp Pera and she's next on the docket. Her and Brady are actually in the compound right now. They aren't taking any chances. She's really important."
"Where are they going to live after she turns?" I asked.
"I don't think that's been decided yet. I guess she'll probably hang around here part of every day - maybe even help run the village - but sometimes, especially when Brady's asleep I bet, she'll be up in the compound with the other vampires. I guess it depends on how her turning affects the imprint, though."
"You think it would?"
"Might. I don't think any werewolf would imprint on a vampire in the first place, you know? Given that they supposedly imprint on people who'll be able to have their kids?" His sentence lost some of its momentum in the last clause, and he gave me an awkward look.
"It turns out half-vampires can have kids, actually," I said. "At least with vampires or humans. Noemi has at least one kid, with a vampire dad."
"Oh, huh," Cody said. "If you only know about the one kid of hers, how do you know that humans can work as the other parent?"
I blinked. "I just heard it somewhere. And it makes sense, doesn't it? Anyway, are you doing a job? Since you're not the official venom dispenser?"
"No," he said. "I've thought about it. Leah's a beta, and Seth's not imprinted so he's one of the tunnel guards, keeping an eye out for humans who find their way in through one of the entrances. So they both work, but I don't know what I want to do, and it's not like I have to get a job if I don't want. I can just live off the state," he added with a roguish wink. "Retire at age five. What about you?"
"I have the impression that "imprint" is actually considered a job all by itself, but as for what I'll do, I don't know," I said. "I guess I'll settle in and see if I naturally fall into anything. Maybe something with the children."
"Don't call them that," advised Cody. "They think "child" is only for young humans, and they'll be insulted and correct you." He imitated one of them: "I'm not a child! Childs grow up and be humans but I'm not gonna be one of those, I'll be a wolf, so I'm a puppy, okay?" Dropping the impression, he said, "A couple imprints are holding out on the terminology, but the ones who are, all speak Italian most of the time, so they don't even use the exact word "child"."
"Bambini," I informed him.
"Right. I'm working on Italian, a little. You can get along with just English, in the village - not that you need to, polyglot whiz. There's only four Italian imprints, and the puppies are all being brought up bilingual. But if I ever want to be able to go look around topside, I'd rather not be one of those obnoxious Americans trying to make myself understood across a language barrier by speaking loudly and slowly."
"Who's teaching you?"
"Seth. He's pretty good with it - he goes up top sometimes, although he has to go with somebody to be sure he doesn't run off into the sunset with an imprint instead of bringing her home. He needs to bring a partner when he guards the tunnels too."
"Do humans get in often?"
"I don't know exactly how often, but there's an entrance that goes up to the back room of a pawnshop, and Seth told me that last month a couple of teenagers got past the proprietor - he's human, but he knows some things - and went down. Seth and Albert, who was with him, caught them."
"What... happened to them?" I asked, softly.
"Well, they got caught right at the ladder that leads down from the pawnshop, so Seth and Albert were all "hey, you can't be down here, this is private property", and the humans didn't see anything, they just went right back up and the pawnshop guy chased them out with an old candlestick."
"Oh," I said, relieved. "I was worried they'd have been eaten, or something."
"Not if they don't see something they shouldn't," replied Cody. "But if they do see something they shouldn't - or if they won't leave when they're told to - or if they pull a gun on the guard, Seth said that happened a couple of years ago - then, yeah, that's the only way." Cody sighed. "I mean, the vampires do have to eat. People who know too much are the obvious menu item, right? I guess they could just kill them without eating them, but that would be a waste - and the Volturi aren't going to run a private, secret prison at their own expense just because some people sneak into the back room of a shop and ignore all the bright red signs saying to keep out and then won't even leave when they're told. Right?"
"Right," I said. I don't eat humans myself and don't plan to start, but if one is going to eat humans, one has to pick them out somehow. My mother used to justify my father's history of human-eating by pointing out that he could read their minds and choose evil ones. Trespassers aren't quite in that category, maybe, but compared to random people off the street it's probably better.
Peter and Charlotte probably ate random people off the street, and same with the Irish coven, and Huilen and Nahuel and probably Nahuel's sisters. And all told, when I think about it, I don't think I've ever been informed that whether somebody has eaten or currently eats humans is a great way to figure out if they're nice or not. Vampires are just people-eating creatures, and even most vegetarian ones at least used to eat people. My mother was all set to eat Pera, even though she'd never eaten anybody before.
Poor Pera was scared out of her wits. I decided to apologize to her after I saw her next, since it was partly my fault she'd been attacked like that. Pera's one of us.
I was back in my room by the time Jacob woke up, with a book I borrowed from the library in North. The library is really there for the puppies' lessons - Brooke told me, during the tour - and so it mostly has kids' stuff, but there were some things I never read before, and anyone in the village can borrow a book from it if they want. If I want more interesting books I'll need to buy them. Vivian, from Rachel's pack, handles payroll and allowances for the whole village (Brooke told me that too, I'm so glad for Brooke, without her having told me everything I'd be so lost), so I decided to go to her and ask for my allowance, after talking to Jacob about what to put in the suite.
Jacob was hungry when he got up, so we went to breakfast, and I had the tiniest possible helping of scrambled eggs to try to get used to eating on everyone else's schedule, even though I was mostly full from eating in the early morning. We were there before most of the crowd. Brooke came over and sat with us, and said she was going to volunteer to move to Jacob's pack, to be in the same pack as her brother Quil. She said that almost all siblings are in the same packs as each other, but one exception is Darren, Grace, and Ian. Darren's still in Jacob's pack and Grace might volunteer to move, but Ian's a boy so he can't offer to move with her. But they might give him special permission to transfer, she said. Brady's brother might do the same thing.
Quinn came over and sat with us too, and I found out that she's Sam's cousin. I asked her if she would change packs too and she said she might, and then we speculated for the rest of the meal about who from Rachel's pack besides Grace would be moving. Brooke thought it might be Ashleigh, since she had only just joined her pack and might not be attached to them yet, but Quinn thought it would be Vivian, since she's Jared's sister. Jacob said he didn't think Vivian would move, because she's a beta, but he might try to trade Jared for Ian if Grace moved into his pack, so all the siblings could be together. We all thought that was a good idea. It was like a soap opera, with so many names, but at least I could remember them all. Jacob kept calling Quinn "Gwyn", by mistake, just because their names rhyme.
I felt pleasantly lightheaded all through breakfast, and I wasn't sure why. I couldn't remember feeling quite like that ever before, except maybe when I was very small and lived in Denali. I walked with Jacob back to our rooms, and there were people everywhere, coming to have a later breakfast or leaving the cafeteria ahead of us. I didn't recognize everyone yet, but they all smiled at me when we passed, and I knew I'd learn who everyone was soon enough.
Then it occurred to me.
I had a whole village full of friends, and I could tell anybody I met anything at all.
Every single person who walked by me in the hall and smiled was safe to talk to. Or show anything I wanted to show. I didn't have to keep any secrets, not one, from anybody I'd be likely to see in the next month. Everybody could know my real name, and where I really came from, and what I'm really like, and what I really am, and I didn't have to hold back or evade or leave out key sentences.
I wasn't allowed to leave, yet, but in the most important way, I was free, free, free.
As soon as I thought of this, I felt something a little strange in the back of my mind. It was like my magic itched. I decided that this was probably because I'd left things out when I told Jacob about how my legs had gotten hurt. Since I was walking just fine, I went ahead and filled him in when we got to our suite.
"I didn't tell you the whole story about how my legs got broken," I said. He looked at me attentively, waiting for me to go on; I considered words, but finally I just put my hand out, and showed him.
"David bit Daphne," he observed slowly, after the memory was through.
"Yes," I said, frowning. "I don't know if he knew it was poison to wolves, but really, there's no creature venom is good for, let alone biting. He was really trying to hurt her. Daphne's only thirteen!"
Jacob shook his head slowly. "You were going very fast. I'd rather Santiago got you out of the fighting without hurting you, but from what you saw that might not have been possible, or one of the wolves could have done it herself... but I'd rather you weren't fighting at all, and that part wasn't Santiago's fault."
I nodded. "If I hadn't been involving myself because of that stupid plan Jasper thought up, Santiago wouldn't have hurt me a bit. And then she set my legs right away. I was just afraid you'd be furious with her for breaking them in the first place, so I didn't tell you yesterday. I'm sorry."
"I know she's not going to do it again," he assured me, and he reached out and I hugged him. "You know," he added, "that's the first memory you've ever shown me."
"Oh, wow, you're right," I said. "How strange. Do you want to see something else?"
"Of course," he said, so I touched his cheek again and began to show him the story of my life.
Chelsea doesn't affect moods directly.
She doesn't have to.
I had a lovely day. I spent the morning showing memories to Jacob and then joined him for lunch. We sat with Cody and Seth and Leah, and Seth was sweet and Leah nearly as funny as Cody. I went next door to meet my neighbors. Albert's imprint was home with their baby Eve. The imprint's name is Amanda; she's Canadian, and was in Italy as a tourist when Albert saw her. She wears her hair in miniature dreadlocks and works in the cafeteria during the dinner shift and has a bookshelf full of mystery novels. She loaned me a stack of those, and her laptop.
I went and got my allowance and picked up Jacob's for him, too, and we spent the afternoon shopping on the borrowed computer. He wanted to replace his tacky quilt, and I needed more clothes. Even though I could have asked any girl I happened to run into in the hall and been invited to borrow something out of her closet, I'm too thin to wear anything that will fit a wolf, and the puppies are too small. The only imprint close to my size is Thea. I tracked her down - she was in North with Noah, letting her son play next to a couple of other puppies - and asked her if I could borrow something, but she told me that she'd ordered clothes online that hadn't arrived in the mail yet, and was borrowing what she had on herself. I tried Amanda next, and she's shorter and plumper than I am, but she let me have her skinny jeans and a couple of t-shirts and a nightgown, which I thought would work well enough until a shipment of my own showed up.
I was halfway through parceling out my allowance on clothes when Jacob wanted dinner, and I went with him, and we sat with Brooke and Quil and Claire. It was nice that Brooke finally had her brother back, and Claire took to her very promptly. Claire had been in the puppies' lessons most of the day, and chattered happily about how she was good at cursive and it was curly and she wanted to make a new sign for her and Quil's room in script.
Being a social creature is hard. Figuring out who likes you and who doesn't, and who wants to help you and who doesn't, and who you like and don't, and what you want to do for others and what you don't, and keeping track of which of your friends get along with each other and which don't - it's exhausting and it's difficult and it's almost impossible to get right every time.
Chelsea makes it easy.
Some people are more than friends. There are wolves with imprints, and the two wolves who are married to each other. There are brothers and sisters, and cousins, and parents and children, and aunts and uncles. There are roommates, and packmates, and people who were friends before there even was a village.
But everybody is at least friends. Every single villager. Chelsea made it happen.
And everything follows from that.
Assembly was a couple of hours after dinner. Iris's daughter Kirsten turned eight, and we all sang for her. And I thought, Just think, if I had gotten away when I wanted to, I would have missed Kirsten's birthday, and that would be awful.
Becky announced that Brooke and Quinn would be leaving her pack to go to Jacob's, and Rachel announced that Gwyn and Grace would be doing the same, and all three alphas and the four transfers got in wolf form to make that happen smoothly. And I thought, If Santiago and the field team hadn't been there to take me here when I went to Denali, I wouldn't have gotten to see Jacob finally have girls in his pack, and then who would tease him?
I did tease him, and he laughed. Then Becky announced that Miles's imprint, Esta, was pregnant with their fourth puppy, and was due in November. That was it for assembly, and I caught Esta's eye on the way out and asked (in Italian) what she was going to name the baby. She asked if I had any suggestions, and told me that the ones she already had were called Prima and Venitia and Luzio, and since those are all Italian names, I said I liked Marietta for a girl or Pietro for a boy, and she liked my ideas. And I thought, If I weren't here, I wouldn't have gotten to help name Miles and Esta's baby!
But I was there, and so I got to help her pick names, and I got to tease Jacob about government regulations around equal-opportunity employment, and I got to be there when Kirsten blew out her eight candles.
Back in South, I gave Amanda her computer back, and spent the evening with a mystery novel in one hand and my other hand on Jacob's face, sending him more of my life story. I wasn't doing any fancy compression or translation, and it was all real memories and not composed hypothetical situations, so I could do both at once. I was four chapters into Amanda's book when I yawned hugely and wanted to go to bed. I told Jacob that he could watch my dreams, if he wanted - "But don't stay up all night watching them," I cautioned. "You need sleep too." He promised, and so I changed into the borrowed nightshirt and then he tucked me in and folded up my hand in his. He looked so happy, and I was sorry all over again for leaving him alone when he needed me.
And I thought, If I had abandoned the pack with my mother when she wanted me to, Jacob would be going out of his mind with loneliness right now. And then what kind of friend would I be?
I decided, in the moments before I fell asleep, that in the future I would be a good friend.
And then I yawned again, and closed my eyes.