"Do you ever get the feeling you're back in primary school with the way things are run around here?" Natasha asks, looking around the cafeteria as they both sit after dinner.
Martin smiles at that, brought out of his worry by the comment. "I suppose you could say that," he murmurs, absently watching the people mill about.
"I mean think about it," she continues. "You were late to the shift today, running up with all kinds of excuses-,"
"It really wasn't my fault, Natasha, I just-,"
She waves her hand, cutting him off. "Yeah yeah, whatever. If it was anyone but you, Martin, I'd have ripped into you." She smiles at him when he looks at her before averting her eyes to watch the room once more. "And look now: we're eating in a communal cafeteria at set times."
He glances at her. "Is that it, then? The two things?"
"Well. And the gossip."
Martin rolls his eyes. "Oh of course. How could I forget?"
Grinning, Natasha says, "I don't know; it's mostly been about you ever since you arrived."
Martin groans, head falling onto his crossed arms on the table. He glances up when she doesn't speak to find that she's staring at the front of the room. Martin turns, watching as Eliza bounces in, running over to the buffet area and grabbing a basket of fruits from the woman behind the counter.
"For her human," Natasha mumbles, eyes following her.
Martin nods. "She's so nice. It's almost overwhelming."
Natasha hums in response, turning her head to watch the front door. Martin glances in that direction where Lydia is waiting, watching Eliza with a smile. He frowns. "I didn't know they were friends."
"Hm?" Natasha hums, following Martin's line of sight. "Oh," she says, drawing out the words as a smile spreads across her face. "Well, not exactly friends."
"What? What do you mean? Why else would she-,"
"Martin," Natasha says, cutting him off and making him look her in the eye. "Not exactly friends," she repeats, staring at him.
"Oh." He pauses, thinking. "Oh."
Natasha leans back, crossing her arms. "Exactly."
Martin can feel his face heat up. "But. But. Um. But…"
"If you say that word one more time I'm going to have to stuff a roll down your throat," Natasha jokes, staring pointedly at the barely-touched tray of a woman halfway down the table from them.
"I just mean," Martin starts, taking a breath. "Well. Isn't Lydia one of Stefan's supporters? An-and I thought Eliza and Isaac were...a thing."
Natasha leans back, a considering look falling over her features. "In the world of vampires, those who change you are either your best friends or your worst enemies," Natasha explains. "At least, that's what Isaac has told me."
Natasha sighs, looking around. "Isaac trusts me enough to talk to me. I don't know why. But we always chat when my turn comes around." She shrugs. "I know a lot of things that other people don't. Stuff that they're not really supposed to know."
He takes the hint. "I get it. Isaac's just overwhelmed, obviously. Needs an outside source to vent to."
"But," she continues, ignoring his attempt to close the subject. "I think you deserve to know. Besides," she smirks, "now I'll finally have something to gossip about that doesn't revolve around you."
Martin rolls his eyes, standing when she does. "You don't have to Natasha. I don't want you to talk behind Isaac's back at the detriment of your friendship."
Natasha shakes her head. "It's not like that. We're not really that close anywhere else. Besides, he never told me I couldn't tell anyone. I think he understands my discretion - I only confide in people I trust." She looks around, picking up her tray. "But not here. Let's go back to your place."
Martin follows her out of the building, walking alongside her as they trek along the small dirt walkway that leads to his housing group.
With dinner just finishing for most, many of the citizens in the town are milling about, running their errands for the day. Natasha and Martin step out of the way of several people, including one woman with a large pile of laundry blocking her view and three children following behind her. Martin grins at one of the little boys - Jeremy - as Natasha waves at him. Jeremy is probably his favorite "neighbor" - always following him around and trying hard to help the building teams.
"See you at the site tomorrow, Jeremy?" Natasha asks, causing the boy to spin around.
"Gotta help with cooking tomorrow, Nat," he yells, running after his mother even before the last words leave his mouth.
Natasha shakes her head. "Even more of a workaholic than you."
Martin snorts. "Yeah. Too bad a six year old can't work more efficiently or else he could take over for me."
"Oh he does fine," she says, smiling and pushing open the door to Martin's unit. She lets him in, moving the door back and forth after he's cleared the doorway, frowning at the squeaking of the hinges. "Your units are up soon for remodelling, else I'd fix this right here and now," she says, patting the door as she shuts it.
Martin shrugs. "I don't mind it, else I would have already. I'm not around here much, anyway."
Natasha nods, moving to sit down on the single chair in the room as Martin takes a seat on his cot. "Right," she says. "Time for you to know everything I know."
Raising his eyebrows, Martin leans back. "You say it like this is going to be a conversation that lasts hours."
"Might," Natasha replies, immediately smiling. "I'm kidding, take the look off your face. It's not like Isaac has told me that much."
"Right," Martin replies, relaxing. He's never been good at late-night conversations, and after today's craziness, he doesn't think he could even try to handle it.
She eyes him from where she sits. "First a disclaimer," she says, grimacing. "Man does that sound professional. And distant." When he doesn't react besides nodding at her, she presses on. "I heard about what happened today, Martin. I wouldn't be telling you any of this is I didn't first trust and respect you."
He blinks at that. Several times. "You...you…?"
Natasha grins. "Yes, Martin, I respect you. You're obviously brave and caring and selfless. I don't know a single person in this town who has done more for the community in such a short amount of time."
Martin shakes his head. "I'm not. I'm not any of that."
Rolling her eyes, Natasha leans back, shaking her head. "And that's your problem, Martin. You don't recognize any of that in yourself."
Martin rubs the back of his head, looking away. "I'm...sorry?"
"Don't be," Natasha says, chuckling. "Just keep what I just said in mind. Ok?"
Martin blushes, not really knowing what to say. "Oh. Ok. Thanks."
"Now," she continues, returning to her original position - elbows on her knees, chin in hand. "Like I was saying. I trust you and respect you, and I expect that you won't go around gossiping about the vamps. Part of me telling you what I know is me wanting to get it out there but part of it is to help you. Most people in the town know about and ignore the petty 'allegiances' between the vamps, but you're newer than the rest, and haven't had time to observe."
She sighs. "Honestly, this whole thing seems ridiculous to most people, but this budding civil war - as I've come to see it - is far more dangerous than I think people give it credit for. Douglas may seem like he's apathetic compared to Stefan's vigor, but they both have vastly differing opinions."
"Humans. Their purpose and worth."
"Oh." And doesn't that answer feel so pathetic considering the information he's just been given. This fight is over his worth? He knew Stefan was disdainful, but how far does that dislike spread? What does that disdain mean for his safety? His autonomy?
"Hey," Natasha says, snapping her fingers in front of him to return his attention. "It's not like it's that bad right now. Honestly, it all depends on Durai, and right now, he seems solidly on Douglas's side."
She takes a breath again, and Martin copies her actions, calming. He nods at her to continue.
"According to Isaac, this all started as a bit of a rivalry between the two top vampires in the coven. Behind Giselle and Durai of course: Chryslin and Stefan."
"Wait wait wait. Chryslin?"
Natasha smiles. "Yeah. Ok ok, a little background, first. Not too much, mind. Even Isaac wouldn't tell me much about this. Chryslin, though, is Douglas's teacher, of sorts. She brought him into the coven."
"She changed him?"
Natasha screws up her face, rolling her head. "Um. No. But she saved him, I guess. Or...something." She shrugs. "Like I said, I don't know much. What Isaac made perfectly clear, though, is that the vampire who changed Douglas is never to be discussed. There's more than a bit of bad blood there."
Martin nods, making a mental note not to talk about that particular subject unless Douglas brings it up himself.
"So," Natasha continues. "Some time after Chryslin brought Douglas in, Stefan began to become more radical. Where Chryslin remembered her human roots fondly, and even befriended humans, Stefan came to hate them. He sees humans as food. Worthless but for their ability to sate his hunger. It was a sore subject, though generally left alone until one day when Stefan drank too much. He ended up killing a human. Chryslin heard about it and was disgusted at his lack of remorse. Before things could get too out of control, he left."
"For how long?" Martin sits up, finding himself far more invested in this story than he'd intended on being.
"About sixty years. When he returned, he brought Lydia, Carmen, and Nadir with him. He quieted down for awhile while he showed them the ropes of being vampires."
"So Stefan changed Lydia."
"Yeah. Saved her, I guess."
Martin purses his lips. "So Lydia is loyal to Stefan because of it."
"Isaac told me that teaching the others brought a side out in Stefan that he hadn't seen for centuries - something kind. His new followers adored him and his newly-revealed charm during that time gave him a niche back into the coven, made it so even Isaac liked him. And, by extension, Eliza."
"Eliza wasn't changed by Stefan?"
"No. By Isaac."
Martin falls sideways onto his cot. "This is too much."
Natasha smiles, though it seems strained. "Just bear with me. It's complicated but that's what you get for dealing with people who have lived as far as they have."
She nods at him, questioning whether or not he's ready to continue. When he nods back, she goes on. "So. Isaac was and is very protective of Eliza." She sighs. "Honestly, with the way he talks about her, it's obvious he loves her."
Martin frowns. "But earlier you said…"
She nods. "I did. Isaac saved Eliza, and there's no doubt that she adores him, but her and Lydia were both new together - changed closer together than anyone else in the group. I guess they formed a special bond different than that between Isaac and Eliza. Where Isaac was a savior and a mentor, Lydia was a companion." She shrugs. "Isaac loves her but understands Eliza's feelings."
"Ok…" Martin says, processing all the new information. "So Isaac changed Eliza, Stefan changed Lydia, everyone got along for awhile. What changed?"
She looks at him, face grim. "Stefan did. With so many vamps befriending him and on his side, he began to gain confidence in his past opinions. People were less likely to make a fuss when he voiced his thoughts, and those vampires he brought back with him even seemed to agree with him - probably out of loyalty and ignorance more than anything. He became louder, especially after the village was founded. Durai stepped in eventually, setting rules that the whole coven must abide by: rules that would appease both Stefan and Chryslin."
"The same rules we have now?"
"Yes. Basically boiling down to don't hurt humans and respect your coven-mates."
Martin shivers. "Stefan was spouting that earlier. Talking about the rules Durai set in place."
Natasha nods. "That's him alright. He loves to spout the rules, twist them to fit his needs. Durai can't go back on the very rules he established, and can even be persuaded into altering them when Stefan gets serious. Isaac told me that sometimes, Giselle has to step in as an outside voice of reason, but sometimes even she can't find a way to unravel his pseudo-logic."
"So where does Douglas come into all of this?"
Natasha grins. "Douglas has as smooth a tongue as Stefan. They both have incredible powers of persuasion, and Douglas used his to help Chryslin. He felt he owed her, but at the same time agreed with her. He sees the coexistence of humans and vampires as a deal of sorts. According to Isaac, he believes humans need to respect vampires, but that respect needs to go both ways." She looks at him. "Your boyfriend is a weird one, that's for sure. But level-headed. And, when he's not trying to be cool, he's kinder than most."
Martin feels heat rise all the way up from his chest to the tips of his ears. "I. Er."
She laughs. "Moving on." She leans back, staring at the ceiling. "Tensions rose, with Stefan and Chryslin at the center. Everyone else started taking sides. At first, Eliza followed Lydia to Stefan's side, but for some reason, she broke off from him. After awhile, Stefan had Lydia, Evren, Clayton, and Nadir on his side while Chryslin had Douglas, Irina, Isaac, Tomas, Andrei, and - eventually - Eliza. Durai and Giselle tried hard to be intermediaries, never choosing sides but trying to appease everyone.
"Then, Chryslin died, and everything got worse. Stefan tried to exert more authority, Douglas and the new human leader Carolyn stepped in, trying to make Durai and Giselle see both sides of Stefan's ridiculous argument. It's been at a stalemate since, and thanks to Douglas's original determination to carry on Chryslin's wishes, he's become the leader of the opposing side. Because nothing really new has happened in the argument, no one seems to take it seriously anymore, but Isaac is fearful of what's to come, and I am too, especially after today."
Martin blinks, a shiver running up his spine. "You think Stefan's going to start something?"
She shrugs. Shaking her head, she looks to the floor. "I don't know. But wanting you specifically with Douglas gone makes me wary. That's why I wanted you to know where things stand. You need to be careful."
Martin's hands come up and grip his arms in an almost-hug. He feels cold, suddenly. "I… what do you think is going to happen?"
She looks at him, and immediately changes her tone. "Honestly, probably nothing. Stefan likes to push boundaries but he doesn't like to put himself out there to be criticized, nor does he want to break the tenuous trust he holds with Durai. He's desperate to change the foundations of this town but afraid of losing the position he currently holds. He's usually so predictable…"
"But him causing such a stir to get me was different from the norm."
Natasha frowns. "Yes. I don't know what he's planning."
Martin closes his eyes, feeling sick with worry. "Is he really so dangerous? Am I in danger here?"
"I'd like to think he's filled his quota of boundary-pushing behavior, but I can't be certain. You shouldn't be in danger and if you are or feel you are for whatever reason, I'll be there. The higher-ups don't seem too worried but I don't know what's going to happen. When I talked to Isaac though, before this all happened, we agreed that about time for the tension to break, one way or another."
"And I'm the catalyst."
Natasha stands, stretching and reaching a hand out to Martin. Martin grabs her hand, standing on unsteady legs. He looks to her in question, but then suddenly, she's hugging him.
He blinks, arms raised in surprise. Eventually, he leans into it, not realizing how much he wanted the physical comfort before it happened.
Her hand comes up, and holds his head in place. "You're brave, Martin, and you're not alone," she whispers fiercely. "I don't know what's going to happen, and it sucks that you're in the middle of all this. Maybe nothing will happen, maybe something will, I don't know. But no matter what, you have me and Carl and Carolyn and Douglas and so many others to look to."
He shivers, feeling almost as if he's going into the heart of battle rather than the vampires' house for a few probably harmless days. "Thank you."
She steps back, keeping her arms on his shoulders. She smiles. "I'm probably being paranoid."
Martin shrugs. "Better safe than sorry," he replies, trying to shake himself of the unsteadiness he's been feeling since Natasha wrapped her arms around him. "Not that I can really do anything at this point."
"You can go to Durai. And if you don't think you can, go to Isaac. But, like I said, I don't see Stefan trying anything without Douglas here."
He hums. "Or maybe that's the reason he will. Without Douglas, he's unrestrained."
She lets him go, frowning. "Is that pessimism I hear?"
"Hard not to be after everything I've heard," he replies, somewhat bitterly. He's grateful for the information but he's not pleased with the timing. The last thing he needs is to be freaked out for no reason.
"Would you rather I hadn't talked to you?"
Martin closes his eyes, shaking his head. "No," he sighs. "No. I'm glad I know now. It's so much better, finally understanding this town. I'm just worried now where I was finally starting to relax after today." He chuckles, trying to shake himself of the trembling that's overcome him in the last few minutes.
Natasha smiles tentatively at him, walking towards the door. "Meet me for breakfast in the morning. I'll find a way to get you some coffee or tea or something. I owe you some after keeping you up late."
She opens the door and Martin sees, now, how late it truly is. No longer is the sun on the horizon, giving the sky an orange hue - now the sky is dark but for the thousands of stars above. The moon, almost full tonight, hangs high in the sky. He groans. "I have the early shift, too."
She smiles, patting him on the shoulder. "Coffee or tea?"
"You can really do that?"
She smirks. "I'm the job manager, I can do anything."
Martin smiles, feeling better now that they've moved on from the morbid subject. "Tea, then. Please."
"Perfect. I'll see you in the morning. Don't be late."
He snorts, watching her go. Soon, she disappears behind a grouping of houses, and he closes the door. Leaning against it, he stares up at the ceiling. This village - originally a haven - is so much more complicated and, apparently dangerous, than he originally anticipated. And of course, he's right in the middle of all the problems.
He closes his eyes. He'll be fine. Probably.
Hello everyone! I'm sorry I'm late again but I'll blame this overdue chapter on college. For anyone that might be curious, college is very very difficult but definitely fun. It's moving quick too; I just had my Physics and Calc exams and this upcoming week I have my Chem exam. Should be interesting :).
Anyway, I want to thank you guys as always for sticking with this and with me. Writing helps relax me and seeing comments and views on my stories always makes me happy - something I need during when I'm stressing about my classes!
Again, thanks everyone for reading. I'll talk at you all again next month :D!