Over the next few years, the lives of Sean, Claire, and their two servants there on that small piece of Ohio farmland seemed relatively uneventful. Baila easily took on the role of dutiful servant, going to the marketplace in town one day each week to make some meager purchases, as well as to sell Sean’s writings or art and Claire’s dresses, while Ash watched over their slumber alone in her absence. On the other days of the week, wherein they were both present, they shared their duties as daytime guardians. Then, in the early evenings, Ash would hunt or tend their small field and barn. Of course, there were other activities that took place in the later hours of the nights. But overall, the four of them managed to adjust to their new lives, regardless of the absence of Haven and his own servants.
It was now actually slightly over three years later, the summer of the year 1602, when Sean and Claire would have to face yet another lesson of their long lives. That lesson was simply the fact that no mortals would ever truly be part of their own decidedly immortal lives for nearly as long as they would each be part of one another’s, after all.
It was shortly after nightfall on a warm June evening when Claire made her way downstairs after a short bath upon waking. Downstairs, Baila was still up and about as she washed the dishes from she and Ash’s meal earlier that evening. As Claire descended the stairs to turn the corner into the living room of the home, her eyes fell upon a letter propped up next to the candle that resided on the small stand there.
“We received a letter?” she asked to Baila through the archway that led to the small kitchen.
“Yes, Miss Claire, it arrived earlier this afternoon, while you slept.” Baila smiled her answer back through the doorway, and then added, “Sean didn’t bother with it before he decided to accompany Ash on his hunt tonight.”
“Well, it isn’t addressed to him.” Claire said distractedly as she lifted the letter into her hand to inspect it further.
“I suppose that would be why, then.” Baila smiled her answer back before turning again to her previous activity.
“Um, Baila.” Claire said as she finally stepped through the doorway to the kitchen, letter still in hand.
“Yes, Miss Claire?” Baila returned as she turned back quickly again.
“I think you can stop with the miss, considering…” Claire began, then just shook her head rather than finishing the sentence, and switched to another instead, “It’s addressed to you.” she told the young blonde as she held it out slightly towards Baila’s place near the counter.
“It is?” Baila asked, a little more than shocked by the fact.
“Did you even look at it?” Claire allowed a slight smile.
“No M--Claire.” she corrected herself, “I assumed it would only be for yourself or Sean.”
“You didn’t notice the name on the envelope, then?”
“Handwriting is…sometimes, difficult.” Baila said as her voice as well as her eyes dropped.
Claire was a bit caught by that explanation as her eyes moved over Baila before finding her own response, “I see you with Haven’s old books all the time, so I just assumed…”
“I, I try.” Baila admitted, “But they’re a lot harder than the children’s books that my mother…and it was such a long time ago.” Baila finished, her eyes remaining cast downwards.
Claire allowed a sympathetic smile as she moved a bit farther into the kitchen, “Usually I wouldn’t read a letter addressed to another person, but if you want, I could help you with it.” she offered quietly.
“You would read it for me?” Baila asked her, her eyes coming up again at last.
“If you want.” Claire offered with another smile.
“But, what about the dishes?” Baila asked as more of an afterthought.
“They’ll still be there afterwards.” Claire offered with another smile as she gestured for Baila to follow her back toward the living room, which the fair-haired woman did then do, with her own smile.
Once they attained a nearby candle and took their seats upon the sofa, Baila moved close to Claire to watch eagerly as the letter was opened, “Who is it from?” Baila interrupted quickly as Claire was about to read the greeting.
“Someone named, Mariana?” Claire offered as she glanced back at the envelope once more.
“Mariana?” Baila repeated, seeming startled by that.
“I assume you must know her, right?” Claire returned.
“Well, there was a Mariana at the, the pub where I first met Sean.” Baila answered thoughtfully, “She was one of the few girls who had had some education before ending up there. She read all of our mail. What little we ever got.” she added more quietly, then continued, “I had seen her sister at market a while back, and told her that I was living here in Ohio, now.” she offered.
“This must be her then.” Claire offered with only a slight smile, “Shall I continue?”
“Please.” Baila smiled back, moving yet closer to look down at the scrawled handwriting as Claire began to read.
“My dear Baila, I was so thrilled to know that you had not moved too terribly far from our old home, and that Marisa had come across you once again. It has been years, I was a bit worried for your well-being, but I am glad to hear that you are doing even better than before. She says that you are a servant now. Is the family very wealthy? I hope you are happy there, as I’m sure it is a much better position than your former. Yes, I am still here, but remaining here in town, I at least am able to keep up with our old acquaintances.” Claire only paused briefly to watch for any reaction the words caused in Baila, though the only visible one was her eagerly waiting to hear more, “One of those old acquaintances is actually the reason I thought to try and contact you now that Marisa located you once again. She is a sly girl, if only she could find a family like you have found. But I suppose that is what we all want. But I have now wandered off my subject. The old acquaintance I speak of is of course Dirk James. Yes, I am sure that is not a name you enjoy hearing, but I have news I was sure you would have wanted to hear of, yourself.”
Baila’s color drained slightly and her expression darkened a bit as Claire read on. Though, Baila’s reactions would have been easily noted even if Claire hadn’t had the heightened intuition Sean’s blood had graced her with those four years prior.
“Do you want me to stop?” Claire asked her quietly.
“No, please, what is her news?” Baila managed, though hoarsely.
Claire paused again, before finding her place in the letter once more, “He returned here one night last week. During his visit, he got exceedingly out of his wits on Loretta’s rum, but that is nothing new for him, which I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded of. As he drunkenly carried on with the others, I couldn’t help overhearing his very loud conversation. Or maybe I was paying a bit more mind to him than I should have, because of your past with him, of course.”
Claire paused only briefly in her reading to move her eyes to where Baila worriedly gnawed her inner lip as she listened to the words, her breath baited as she waited for Claire to continue.
With another swallow, Claire moved on through the words, “In the course of his ramblings, he mentioned that Josephina had passed on last month and that the children were just getting too much for his young sister to deal with. Mind you, I don’t mean to tell you this to worry you, Baila, but in the state that Dirk seemed to be in, I do worry for little Taylor. He is six years old now, is that right? I just fear that Dirk may treat him differently than he and Josephina’s children when he is under the duress of taking care of all of them on his own now. I just worry that Taylor, being the eldest, and Jo no longer being there to curb Dirk’s temper…I just worry for him. I tell you this all not to upset you further, but because your position in the world, as well as Dirk’s, to some extent, have both changed over the years. When Taylor was first born, things were different. He already had a woman he was betrothed to at the time, and you were…in a different place in the world then. Though now, things are different, and I believe that if there were ever a time that you could regain your own flesh and blood rights to that little boy, now would be it.”
Claire’s voice dropped a bit as she read on, the words giving her a much clearer picture of the past of the woman who now sat next to her, struggling against tears as she listened intently to Mariana’s words.
“Please, is there more?” Baila asked in a hoarse whisper, once she found her voice again.
Claire simply nodded before managing to continue, “I know you have found that better place in the world now, but I can’t believe that you wouldn’t at least want to know that your boy may need you now even more than before, and now might be the one time when you may actually be able to be there for him again, at last. I included Dirk’s current address in case you do want to take that chance to finally be able to see your boy again, after all this time. Please stay well, and if you return to Pennsylvania as I hope you may, now, please come and see me too. We all miss you Baila, and wish you the happiness we all want to find for ourselves someday. Yours, Mariana.” Claire finished with a hard swallow as she folded the letter over and handed it toward where Baila’s hand now tightly gripped the dark cushion below them.
“That’s all then?” Baila managed with an even hoarser whisper as she slowly reached for the paper.
“Just his address, at the bottom.” Claire managed as she looked over at her sympathetically.
“Thank you, for reading it for me.” Baila managed as she took the letter and shakily stood, not really looking back to let Claire see the tears she had already noted anyway.
When Baila then forced her feet to move her back toward the kitchen, the paper still gripped tightly in her shaking fingers, Claire just had to stand to stop her departure as she spoke up once more, “How soon will you be going, then?” Claire asked, her own voice shaking a bit. As wary as she originally had been of Baila’s addition to the home, much had changed over the last four years, and losing Baila’s presence in their home did worry, and even sadden her a bit now that it could become a reality.
“Going?” Baila asked shakily as she turned back at the sound of Claire’s question.
“To be with your little boy.” Claire returned, forcing a smile despite the seemingly illogical tears that she pushed back as she spoke.
“But I…” Baila began as her own tear escaped, “Sean, and you, you need me here.” she managed to choke out the words.
“We don’t need you as much as I’m sure your little boy does.” Claire smiled sadly, “Besides, Ash is still here, and, I’m sure Sean won’t want you traveling all the way back to Pennsylvania alone. He can take you there, and, and if you do stay, I’m sure we’ll manage to make due.” Claire offered her quietly as she gently touched the other girl’s shoulder while Baila just looked up at her with widened blue eyes, trying to find her own words.
“I…I don’t want to leave your household, but, I….I haven’t seen him even once since Dirk took him away from me.” she choked a bit as she forced her eyes back up, “I don’t want to leave the two of you unprotected. And I don‘t wanna be away from any of you either….I just…”
“Baila, we found you when we needed you. We’ll manage to find someone again if you do stay there. Your own child,” Claire swallowed hard through her words before forcing more, “that’s more important than this bond you feel like you have to us. Even if you don’t think you can bear to be away from us, you already know how it feels to lose your only child…And I’m sure, like any mother, you would want to find any way you could to get that child back again. You have that chance now. Some mothers never will.” Claire managed as her own tears came to the fore again.
Baila looked up at the sight of Claire’s tears, “You speak like, like you know.” Baila whispered as she struggled to try and meet Claire’s downwards cast eyes.
Claire swallowed again as she quickly moved to wipe away those drops of red, before forcing an attempt at a smile and finally looking up at the other woman again, “I’m a woman, aren’t I?” she attempted to shrug off Baila’s words before giving her hand another gentle squeeze and heading up the stairs once more, in a further effort to hide the pain, and guilt, that she had never even shared with her soul mate, when there was nothing else in the world that she wouldn’t share with him, except that one confession she could still never give him, to this day.
It was only another week into that summer when Claire now found herself in that house alone, with only Ash to watch over her instead of the one man who had always held that role for nearly two decades already. That night, only hours after Sean and Baila began their trek back to her old home a state away, Claire sat curled into the cushions of the sofa, her arms wrapped around herself from where she stared unblinking at the candle on the stand next to her.
“You can’t possibly be cold.” Ash’s words interrupted her thoughts as he returned from the barn on that muggy June evening.
She allowed a small, startled smile as he entered the room, now seeming more nervous around him that night than she even had four years earlier, before the two had ever become lovers.
“Just habit, I guess.” she managed quietly, not making eye contact as he approached the sofa.
“Habit? What habit?” he smiled as he took a seat next to her.
Claire allowed a nervous chuckle, as she continued to look away, “I mean, I guess I’m just used to having someone’s arms around me at night.” she managed in a slight whisper.
“The hour is still early.” Ash smiled back as he then moved to place his own arms around her, kissing her hair as he did.
“You’re not hunting tonight?” Claire asked shakily, her body tensing ever so slightly at his nearness.
“There is one less mouth to feed, now. And my hunger this night, is for a different prey.” he breathed as his lips moved to her neck instead, where she tensed again in his arms. As he moved closer, her tension became even more obvious to him, causing him to stop his kisses and look up at her once more, “I have made love with you hundreds of times. Why do you act as though it’s our first, tonight?” he asked her softly.
Claire blinked a bit at his awareness as well as his voicing the question aloud, before managing to find her own voice, “It was…different…all of those other times.” she attempted to explain her wariness.
“How?” was his simply worded response. Though he still refused to release her from his warm embrace.
She blinked again at his ever present lack of any kind of subtlety, despite how used to his way of communicating that she had indeed become over the years. She swallowed again, before trying to force the kind of honesty that Ash always seemed to display, himself, “Because, Sean was there all the other times.” she allowed herself to answer, though in a whisper.
Ash’s brow creased slightly as he thought on her words a moment before continuing, “You are more comfortable making love to me in front of your husband, than you are when we are alone?” he asked, her, not able to help his own slight smile at the theory.
She just shook her head as she looked down again, “I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense. I know that.” she managed, “But it just, it’s different, if he’s not part of it.” she attempted to explain her own feelings of guilt, despite the truth of what honestly caused all of those feelings.
“Let me just ask you one thing.” Ash continued after a pause.
“What’s that?” she said, finally forcing herself to look towards those deep pools of brown.
“What do you think he and Baila will do, tonight, when they crawl into some bed, without us?”
Claire looked up quickly as he spoke aloud one of the many questions that had been running through her own head that night. She swallowed again as she managed to hold his gaze another moment before finally managing to tell herself that this beautiful man next to her, he did love her, just as deeply as her husband did, even if the reasons he did were not based in any kind of reality, his love for her was still terrifyingly real, to him. His love for her was something that he believed with every bit of his being, something he would give his very life for, the way she had decided to give her own for Sean’s love, without him even asking her to. She swallowed once more, suddenly then being hit at once by the feeling of terrible emptiness brought on by Sean’s absence, and needing, right then, to feel anything else. With that, she fell into Ash’s continued embrace, covering his lips hungrily with her own, begging him to make her feel that something else other than her own seemingly endless pain.