Author’s Note: Because Occie and Stone were always a couple, even when they thought they weren’t.
“You ever wish for a normal life?”
“You mean like what Enya has or like what normals have or just… quitting this?” Oceana asked, lying on the beach and trying not to pay too close attention to what was behind Stone’s words. She had a feeling that she already knew, and that wasn’t what she needed or wanted. She didn’t want to talk about it. He’d been pushing since he was maybe ten, insisting that he was in love with her when neither of them were old enough to know what that meant.
Stone stepped back from his sandcastle, admiring his elaborate work that would have put any local kids to shame if this wasn’t a private beach. “I know better than to bring up quitting with you. I know what happens if I suggest you go anywhere away from your brother.”
She closed her eyes. “I can’t let him kill himself. It seems like every time we go up against a rogue, he’s doing more, pushing harder, trying to do it all himself—”
“So he can tell us all to go and do it on his own. You know that’s what he’s been trying to work for all this time. He wants to be strong enough to give us all our freedom, not just Enya.”
“He can’t do that.”
Stone shrugged, sitting down next to her. His eyes went out to the water. “I don’t know. I think he gets closer by the day.”
“He wouldn’t know how to quit. Being a leader is all he has.”
“No, it’s all he thinks he has. It’s all he thinks he can have, but that’s not true. It’s not true for him, and it’s not true for any of the rest of us.”
Stone put a hand on her cheek, shaking his head. “I never stopped, and you know I won’t. Cress thinks there’s no life out there besides this, not for someone like him, with that much talent and control and guilt, so he keeps trying to push things to where he can get the rest of us out of this, trying to take it all on himself. You see him do it and get scared, so scared that he’s going to kill himself doing it, and you won’t leave him because you’re the only one here that can pull him away from that edge. You won’t consider any other kind of life because you think you have to be with him. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this, and I think it’s time to prove you both wrong.”
Oceana yanked his hand away. “For the last time, Stone, I’m not running off with you or abandoning my brother.”
“I never asked you to do that. All I want is for you to love me—to admit that you do, at least. I see it when you look at me, and I feel it when we touch, but you’re so tied up in keeping your brother from his martyrdom that you won’t take a moment for yourself. You’re as bad as he is. You know no matter what your parents did, that wasn’t you and it wasn’t him. You two don’t have to be punished forever for what they did or thought should be our way of life. I don’t care if we have kids that are attuned to an element—yours or mine. I think I want kids, want to spoil little Occies and build sandcastles with them, but I don’t have to have that, either. I just want to stop the misery I see in both of you. Part of the reason he’s unhappy is because he knows what he’s keeping you from.”
She turned on her side. “We don’t get normal lives. I thought you knew that already.”
He leaned over and kissed her cheek, down her neck, his hand tracing along her side, far too close to the edge of her swimsuit for her liking. She couldn’t think when he did that. “Marry me, Occie. For the hundredth time, marry me. I’m not asking for the normal’s delusion of a house with a picket fence and two-point-five kids. I’m asking for you and me as a couple, admitting that we care about each other. I’m asking for you to let me be where you are no matter where that is. If it’s always at your brother’s side, I can live with that. He’s my best friend—Don’t tell Terra I said that—but he is. I already see him like my own brother, if I’d ever had one, and this team is a family. I want to be close to our family. I just want us, too.”
Oceana stared at him. “Stone…”
“I love you. I always have.”
Water splashed over them, soaking them both, and Stone sat back with a frown. She looked up as rain splattered her arms, shaking her head. “Cress, knock it off!”
“Not until you go,” he yelled back, and she cursed him even as she forced the water off the shore. Her towel was soaked, and the rain hadn’t stopped. She couldn’t make it stop, either.
“I think he just gave us his blessing, such as it is,” Stone said, and in spite of everything, she laughed.