An Excellent Throw Rug

Author’s Note: So a while back when I had my fluff fest, Liana Mir gave me the quote “he’d make an excellent throw rug” as a prompt. This is what I came up with, and it seemed like a good piece to start off the themed snippets with a Sunday Silly.

An Excellent Throw Rug

“Why is Flint on the floor?” Cress asked, giving the other man a look as he stepped around him and into Moira’s cabin. He didn’t really want to ask, but he didn’t have much of a choice. They were elementals. They did the impossible. They saw strange things daily. Flint on the floor, doing a good impression of a rug, that wasn’t so bizarre, but if the man was actually unconscious, that made a difference.

“A difference of opinion.”

“Is that all?”

Moira shrugged. “Do I need more of a reason?”

“You expect me to say no. You know me well enough to know I’d say yes.”

She rolled her eyes. “Fine. He’s there because he makes an excellent throw rug.”

“Got tired of knocking him into walls, did you?”

“It was time for a bit of variety.”

Cress snorted. “And they wonder why we never dated.”

Cat Versus the Elements

Author’s Note: Liana Mir wanted an AU snippet from Fire and Water based on this passage of it (from A Bit of Practice):

He glanced down at his chest before coming toward the shore to pick up his shirt. He pulled it on and shrugged. “I’m wet. A lot of things look better wet. Not cats, though. I don’t think it would be fair for one of us to have a cat.”

“Probably not. I might set it on fire, you could drown it, and Moira would end up knocking the poor thing out of the house with a gust of wind.”

Here it is.

Cat Versus the Elements

Legend said that cats had nine lives, and if they did, Chocolate seemed to be proof of that. The small, brown ball of fur belonged to Terra, a gift given to her by Sherwin as an apology of some kind. None of the others quite understood why he would give a woman attuned to earth a cat, of all things, but he just reminded them that a dog would dig up her plants and said no more.

It was probably better that he didn’t. Any time Stone saw the cat, he had a habit of turning a gaze befitting his name toward the other man. Of course, when the kitten placed a paw on him, she turned that big man into mush, and everyone was reminded that he was a gentle giant—when they weren’t teasing Occie about how he’d be with their kids.

Occie would take the cat from Stone’s hands, give her a gentle scratch behind her ears, and set her down. After this ritual, the two of them tended not to be seen for hours, though that never bothered Chocolate.

She had other mischief to find, and find it she always did.

She never seemed to regret it, either, though she probably should have after she startled Enya. Chocolate had no way of knowing that Enya had become a city girl in her time apart from the others, no idea that having something small and furry sneak into her sleeping bag would cause the reluctant fire elemental to scorch away all of that fur.

Terra and Enya didn’t talk for a while after that, though Enya did try and remind her that Chocolate would have been too hot in the summer with all that heavy fur. Chocolate was able to meet her namesake when Terra got a large box of gourmet chocolates as a peace offering, promptly shredding the ribbon that had wrapped it shut.

Of course, peace with Chocolate around never lasted long. After the record-breaking heat wave, tensions were a bit high all around, all the more so in the overheated water elementals. Chocolate wouldn’t have understood what the argument was about, but she did become more acquainted with the rain that followed after than a cat ever wanted to be.

Not even being water could save Cress from Terra’s ire over the cat’s near drowning. Terra only stayed with the others to be close to her brother, since Occie would not leave hers. Chocolate didn’t hold a grudge, though. She still snuggled with Cress as she did everyone else—Enya said it must be because he smelled like fish because cats didn’t like water.

Cress let her do an impression of the drowned cat for that comment. Chocolate wisely avoided all that followed that, choosing instead to find the air elemental that was alone—almost alone—in the cabin. Had it not been for Flint’s choice of comment at the time, nothing might have happened. Moira liked Chocolate well enough—as much as Moira liked anyone, at least.

What she did not like was a certain firebug and a certain song, and in ridding herself of one irritating presence, she caught an innocent party in her gale wind, shoving both of them out the door. Terra scooped up her cat and disappeared into her garden for a while.

“I don’t think we as elementals should have a pet,” Cress said, and everyone would have agreed had Chocolate not come out of the garden with a litter of kittens. They cursed instead, knowing they’d lost.

Though this is not a part of the main story, you can read more by starting here.

Author’s Note: At least they get Stone back.

A Rescue, of Sorts

Something was different. Stone could feel it the moment he opened his eyes. He couldn’t place it, but he knew it. He needed more than that fleeting sensation to pin it down, but he thought if he could, everything would be fine. Strange. Nothing was right, and yet he assumed that it would be if only he was able to get closer to that feeling.


Terra. He knew what it was. He could feel his sister. He hadn’t felt her presence in a long time, but he knew what he was feeling now, and it was her. She was here. Well, not here, but close. Close enough to give him more strength than he’d had since he first woke. He didn’t care about the drugs. They couldn’t hold him back from the earth, not with her near.

He forced his hand over, yanking out his IV with a grim smile. Sure, now everything hurt a hell of a lot more, but that didn’t mean that he was going to stop. He couldn’t flush the drugs straight out of his system like Cress or Occie, but he’d work on it all the same. If he got a hold of something to connect him to the earth, if he could find a plant or something organic, he could help his recovery.

The door opened—that was tame way of saying that since it slammed into the wall, crumpling into a twisted bit of metal—and he smiled. “Moira. I take it someone pissed you off.”

“Someone’s good at doing that, actually.”


She came over to the bed, putting a hand on his cheek, her eyes filling with tears. “Oh, you idiot. I thought you were dead.”

“I’m sorry. I thought I was, too,” he told her, brushing back a bit of her hair. Damn, she was beautiful. She looked down at the bandages on his chest, grimacing. He shook his head. “It’s not that bad. They’ve been keeping me down with sedatives. That’s what’s bad.”

“Yeah. Cress said if we didn’t get you out and back in touch with the earth that you’d die.”

“Your brother is good.”

“He’s also an idiot,” she said, moving to the side. “I don’t see a bed pan. Get prepared to puke.”

“Damn it.”

She shook her head. “Have to get the sedatives out of you one way or another, and I think you’d prefer that over the alternative.”

He nodded, leaning over the bed as she put a hand to the back of his neck. He didn’t want to think about what she was doing to his body as she forced the drugs out of his bloodstream and into his stomach. He gagged, vomiting it onto the floor. Moira kept the air flowing, making the stench dissipate, but that wasn’t much of a consolation.

“Better. Not going to be able to move on my own, though.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Sherwin told him, coming over to the bed. He shifted it with the air, moving it away from the vomit so that Stone wouldn’t put his feet in it when he stepped down. “Um… sorry we took so long. Terra was… kind of a mess.”

“Where is she?”

“In the car. Cress said she’d be too much of a danger to you as she is, and he’s right,” Moira said, looking toward the doorway. “Where the hell have you been?”

Stone frowned, expecting to see Cress, but that was not his brother-in-law. The man in the doorway shrugged. “Don’t get bent out of shape, Windy. I was just causing a small electrical fire to make sure that the surveillance was gone.”

“Since when do we work with fire rogues?”

“Nice to meet you, too. I’m Flint. It’s a long story,” the firebug said, coming over to help lift Stone off the bed. “Damn. Maybe we should have asked your brother for a wave to ride him out on, huh, Oceana?”

She shook her head. Stone didn’t know what to think at the moment, but he wasn’t going to complain too much, not after what he’d been through. “Wait. Please don’t tell me your brother is taking on that water elemental on his own.”

“You met that bastard?”

“Yeah. Never got introduced, but we all kind of met him before.”

“We did?”

“That day that the water was wrong and you and Cress both looked like you were going to die…”

Moira cursed, and Sherwin echoed it. The fire rogue grunted. “Figures. He must have had plenty of reason to watch over Washburne considering he’s the closest thing to a match that bastard’s got.”

Stone shook his head, wishing he had the strength to pull away from the men helping him walk. They were carrying him, and he couldn’t fight their hold. He was too weak, still a bit drugged, and he hadn’t managed to get a hold of any dirt yet. “No. I don’t—Damn it. You all knew I was bait, didn’t you? That bastard didn’t care about me. He only wanted Cress, and he didn’t—”

Occie stumbled, hitting the wall with a shudder. She slid to the floor, and Stone cursed. “Occie, how bad is it?”

She looked up at him. “I… I can’t sense him. There was… It was sharp and horrible, and he was in a lot of pain, and then, now… there’s nothing. It’s like he’s gone.”

“We thought Stone was, and he’s not. Don’t go assuming that about Cress,” Moira said, pulling Occie onto her feet. “We have to go find him. Just hold on until we do, okay?”

Occie nodded, looking numb. Stone wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her, wanted to tell her it would be all right, but he couldn’t. She wouldn’t be okay again until she saw her brother, and even then, that was no guarantee. There might not be any way of pulling Cress back from the edge this time.

Author’s Note: The trouble with plans, even bad ones, is that they get used. That’s the point of them.

Following the Bad Plan

“Let me out here.”


“Terra’s awake again. That means we’re closer to Stone. That also means that if we get much closer, he’ll be able to sense me. I’m going to give him a reason to come see me, and that is your window. Go do what needs to be done.”

“This is a very bad idea,” Enya said, reaching for his arm. He looked down at her hand, and she pulled it off with a sigh. “Please. Be careful.”

He gave her a slight smile, opening the door and jumping down. He shut it behind him, and she moved to the window to watch him as he walked away. She didn’t like this. She knew she was still useless—she and Flint hadn’t gotten much of anywhere with training—and Terra might have been awake, but that didn’t make her capable of anything. Cress shouldn’t be on his own.

“I’d just get him killed if I went after him, wouldn’t I?”

“I’m going to have you and Terra stay with the car,” Moira said. “You two will back us up if anything goes wrong, and you know it probably will.”

“The useless ones are your backup? That is a bad plan, Moira.”

“Enya, you’re not useless. Even without control, you’re not. If things go real bad, and they might, you will be there to deal with it. I know that. I’m also hoping that the more we can help Stone, the better off Terra will be. We’ll see what happens, but I hope we don’t have to call on you.”

Enya grimaced. She let out a breath, feeling Flint’s hand on her shoulder. She looked over at him and he smiled at her. She wanted to be reassured, but she didn’t feel like anything could at the moment, not with Cress off on his own.

“He’s a strong, stubborn bastard, but if you’d kissed him, he’d have had a lot more of a reason to make sure that he came back.”

“Oh, gee, why didn’t I think of that?” She pushed his hand off her shoulder. She didn’t need to think about that, refused to go there. Cress was struggling, and she knew that, and she wasn’t about to complicate things the way Sherwin always did.

“Who says you didn’t? You just didn’t act on it.”

“Shut up.”

Flint shook his head. “I think one thing most of you have overlooked is the value of having something to come back to. Most of you shut yourselves off from what you want and what you care about to do what you do, and while that can help, it can hurt, too. Maggie and I always went into a fight with some plan of what we were going to do when we got out of it, something worth keeping ourselves alive for, and I stand by that. It helped. Come on, Oceana. Wasn’t it better after a fight to be able to go to your husband and have some time alone?”

“After she got her brother leveled out, you mean?”

“I didn’t ask you, Weatherly.”

“Enough. We are not going to start fighting among ourselves before heading in there. We’re nervous and worried, but we are not giving in to that. We will not let our own emotions work against us. We have to be careful, and we have to be quick. Stone needs us, but we have to balance that against the fact that Cress is out there alone. We can’t afford mistakes.”

“Other than the one we made letting him go off alone,” Weatherly muttered, and his sister gave him a dark look. He lowered his head. “Sorry. I’m… You know me. My mouth runs off when I get nervous.”

She nodded. “I know. All right. We’re almost there. Cress has started his distraction, if that rain is anything to judge by. We need to be ready. Terra, you can feel Stone now?”

“Barely. It’s like… I think he’s sedated.”

“Makes sense.”

“I should be able to help flush it out of his system, if we get to him. The trouble is going to be in getting to him,” Occie said. She sighed. Enya looked at her, and the other woman closed her eyes. “Cress feels fine for now, but we don’t have a lot of time.”

“Let’s go.”

Author’s Note: Most plans are bad plans. Especially if I make them.

The Plan No One Likes

“Anyone got a plan?”

“Shut up, Flint.”

“Well, I know I’m just along for the ride, but you know you can’t go in there without one. It’ll get us all killed. I know that your friend has been in there for too long already, but think about it—your most powerful person is running near empty, you’re missing one, and you’re gimped because your earth is half-out of her head and Enya doesn’t have control.” Flint looked around the car, daring someone to argue with him, and of course, they couldn’t. They might want to, none more so than Windy, but they knew he was right. “We can’t go in blind. There has to be a way to get out, and we don’t even have a way in besides overexerting ourselves making a path.”

“We can by-pass plenty of security measures with any of our given talents,” Sherwin said. He shrugged. “It’s never been much of a problem before. We can usually hear someone give a password if it’s a vocal one, and Moira’s good at twisting the wind into a convincing echo. If there’s something on a keypad, Terra or Stone could pick it up, and then it’s just a matter of getting the order right, which isn’t that bad. It doesn’t take much to disarm anyone, and if we just want to pass through… Well, Cress has put them to sleep in seconds in the past.”

“You can’t rely on him to do everything.”

“Build the plan away from me as much as possible.”

Windy cursed. “Damn it, Cress, you do not get to be the distraction.”

“Yes, I do. I am the one who can stand against him on my own the longest, and I’m also one that he’ll be able to feel when I get close. I cannot be a part of any sort of stealth. Ideally, I’d be somewhere else entirely when I got his attention, forcing him to leave the area where he is holding Stone devoid of any elemental defenses. Normals are easy to deal with. Rogues are not.”

“You should take your sister with you.”



“Occie gets to be with Stone.”

“That’s Terra’s role.”

“It’s Occie’s.”

Flint shook his head. “You’re not going to get him to back off on that. The prisoner gets his wife as the one he wakes up to. I’m with Washburne on that much, at least.”

“Wife?” Sherwin sputtered, staring back at Oceana. “You two got married? You never told us, but you told the new guy? What the hell is wrong with this picture?”

Oceana shook her head. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

“I did,” Cress said. She frowned at him, and he shrugged. “It was relevant to the discussion at the time. It is not now, other than to say that I feel you should be able to be with Stone after all this time, and that he needs you. In fact, he would be better off with you and not with Terra, as stabilizing her would drain him too much in his current state.”

Windy shook her head. “That still means leaving you on your own with this bastard who is more powerful than all of us, so why would we do that? Come on, Cress. I already told you—sacrificing yourself is not an option.”

“I’m not planning on dying, just on buying the necessary time, which we all know I am capable of, no matter what my condition. I led us away from Stone when he wasn’t dead, when he could have been saved, and that is a mistake I will atone for. I think using his interest in me to our advantage is for the best, and if I simply count upon you to do what I know you can do, then there is a minimal risk to me.”

“It’s still a risk,” Enya said, biting her lip as she watched him. “You don’t really have to do this. We’ll find some other way. It’s too dangerous.”

He shook his head. “I doubt there is any other way, and I will be fine.”

Flint looked at him. “Let me be the distraction. The bastard knows me, too. He killed Maggie. No one likes your plan—”

“No one trusts you enough to let you be that big of a part of the plan.”

That was a kick to the gut, but he didn’t hear anyone arguing with Washburne, either. Flint nodded, clipping his words as he spoke. He didn’t want to be so pissed, didn’t want to care what any of them thought of him, but he did. “Fine. If that’s the way it shakes down, that’s the way it goes, I guess.”

“This plan sucks.”

“I think we all agree on that much, at least.”

Author’s Note: The bond forming between Flint and Enya is… necessary. She needs his help so that she can control what she can do. She also needs a friend/brother-type like him, I think.

The Truth about Fire

“What’s the number one misconception about fire elementals?”

“They all smoke,” Enya said, folding her arms over her chest. She wasn’t sure she wanted to do this now, but they didn’t have a lot of time left at the lake. Just a little while longer, enough time for everyone else to load up the car and let Terra rest and Cress recoup a bit before they started running again. She knew it hadn’t been long enough—it never was. He couldn’t seem to get enough rest to rebuild himself.

“Yeah, exactly. Why do they all assume we’d want to do that? Think about it. We know what’s burning. We can feel it. The tar and the other things in cigarettes and cigars… Yuck. It’s not as simple as needing fire. We’re not necessarily pyromaniacs, but we are in some ways. We can get comfort from it, and we can give off heat…”

“When we lived on the end of that block, we never paid for water or heating. My parents could keep us all warm even in the worst of the winter, and the Washburnes made sure we had enough water. The whole ‘firebug’ thing is a bad stereotype.”

Flint shrugged. “Don’t think that we’re not, though. You and me, Maggie and your family, we’re exceptions, not the rule. I know plenty of us that are crazy. Those wildfires a few years back, that was one of us—”

“I know. Cress told me. He and the others had to stop him. It… upset him, I could tell, because he couldn’t find a way to get that guy to stop other than keeping him sedated constantly.”

“Treating everyone who isn’t a part of your little group as rogues—”

“Judge, jury, and executioner?”

Flint gave her a look. “Well, sometimes I’m sure they must have acted like that. Even if they don’t kill. Then again, we don’t have the same kind of… rules in the first place. Normals can’t stop us. If we did abuse our abilities against them… A single one of us could kill thousands of them and even their bullets couldn’t stop us. Maggie could get fires up high enough to burn them if she wanted, or she’d just burn the guns. Your earth elementals can block them, air can divert them, and same with water.”

“Tranquilizers would be better, though they might still be diverted.”

“Point being, someone has to keep the rest of us in check. Some of us aren’t out to abuse anything. Some of us are, and who’s going to stop them if they make that choice?”

Enya’s eyes went to the water. “Cress did, but then again, he knows what it’s like to deal with elementals who abuse their abilities.”

“I had a warped thought—don’t mind me, I get plenty of them—but could part of the plan have been to make him kill his parents? Maybe he was supposed to… cross to the dark side when he did.”

She shivered. “I hope not, but if that was true, at least he and Occie managed to resist that no matter what their parents did to them.”

Flint touched her shoulder, and she felt warmth spread over her, and she choked, fighting tears. She hadn’t felt this since her parents did. Comfort and safety, this feeling of warmth had nothing to do with desire or stupidity like what Sherwin did to her. This was the warmest, softest blanket, a symbol of care and kindness—she didn’t want to say love because that wasn’t what was between her and Flint but it had been like that with her family.


“No one’s done that since my family died.”

He grimaced. “Sorry. I seem to bring up a lot of bad memories for you without trying to. I’m not… Maggie and I used to do that all the time, more her doing it to me—Damn, she was so strong—but I wasn’t thinking—”

“It’s not… bad. I missed it. It’s just hard at the same time. I envy you, not being afraid of it or of yourself, and even having your sister with you for as long as you did. Aidan… he never got much of a chance, and I made things worse because he was more willing to work on his control than I was. Every time I did something, though, I… It was like someone else was in control of me, some other woman with fire, and all she wanted was to destroy. The only thing that stopped her was Cress, and he almost had to kill himself to do it.”

Flint took her hands. “If I wasn’t fire, you’d see nothing but burns on me. Maggie and I were pretty young when we found out what we could do, and it was out of control for a while. We did some horrible things to each other, but we both survived. I’m not scared. Anything you do I’ve probably been through before. I’ve gotten good at controlling things, have been for over twenty years now. Washburne is right—you can do it without him.”

She took a deep breath. “I bet he thinks he’s holding me back. He would.”

“He grounds you, and you ground him. That’s different. We all need balance, and it isn’t always found in a sibling.” Flint let go of her and reached into his pocket. He put his lighter in her hand. “Only if you want to. You don’t have to keep it.”

She opened up the lighter and closed it again. “If you don’t mind, I’ll just… hold onto this and adjust to the idea of it for a while.”

“Sounds good.”

“It must be frustrating, trying to teach someone who is so… slow, who’s such a coward—”

“No. Maggie once said that fire made her a real bitch, and I shook my head, trying to tell her that she wasn’t, but she had to fight against the same thing you did. I had to push her a few times, and she was the strong one out of the two of us. Still, there were times when she wanted to give up, when she said she’d rather die than go on with our ‘curse.’ She never killed anyone, but she came close a few times, and it scared her. She had me to pull her back and help her rein in the fire. You didn’t.”

“I had Cress.”

Flint shook his head. “Not in the same way. You’re terrified of causing a fire he can’t overcome because you—more than anyone else besides his sister—know how much it takes out of him to help you, and you don’t want to put him through it any more than he wants to see you hurt when you lose control. I guess, in a sense, you held back for him, so maybe he’s right in thinking he does hold you back, but I’ve only seen one elemental more powerful than he is—unless what I suspect about you is true—and so he can handle anything you throw at him.”

“He shouldn’t have to. He does too much already.”

“Yeah, and you all let him do it. It’s not that he’s the only one who can, but you’ve all fallen into a pattern where you assume he is and he always steps in and does it, so it reenforces itself. Go ahead. Burn me. You’ll see that not only can I handle it, I don’t need a water elemental to put it out.”

“I am not going to burn you. I might shove you in the water, though.”

Flint laughed.

Author’s Note: Time to accelerate things a little.

The Earth Calls


“I felt Stone. I know he’s alive.”

“We all know that,” Sherwin said, kneeling next to her. He put a hand on her shoulder, and she shuddered, falling against him. He frowned, not sure what was going on with her, but then nothing had been right with her since Stone died. Not that he was dead, but still…

“I felt him. Just now. Not that long ago. It’s… bad,” she whispered, shivering. He wrapped an arm around her and held her as she did, trying to calm her. He’d seen Cress go off with Moira, and he knew that his sister could use some help for a change, but he needed to get back. They both did, if what Terra was saying was true. They might have taken too long already, and none of them would forgive themselves for that.

“What is it?”

Sherwin looked up at Flint. “You seen Moira or Cress lately? Even Occie?”

“No, both the water twins were doing their best to act like fish and disappeared on me. Your sister nearly killed me because I got too close to her, and I haven’t seen her since. Limped out here to find everyone since I figured you were all down by the lake.”

“Stone…” Terra said, and Sherwin rubbed her back, trying to keep her calm. “No…”

“Are we that close? Can she really sense him?”

“Either we’re close or he’s in major pain or…” Sherwin grimaced, not finishing that statement. Terra started to sob, and he ran his fingers through her hair. If they didn’t get Stone back, they were going to lose her. That was clear. She couldn’t do this on her own.

He heard footsteps and looked up with relief to see Cress there. He knelt down next to Terra, taking hold of her hand, and she threw herself at him. He grunted, letting her hold on as that sense of calm washed over all of them.

“Hmm. Glad I missed when he did that for your sister.”

Sherwin frowned. “What?”

Flint shrugged. “If you think about it, a guy who can do that should get all the girls, right?”

“Like hell.”

“Boys.” Moira fixed them each with a pointed glare, making sure they knew not to step out of line. “How’d this start?”

Sherwin let out a breath. “She was fine, then she stopped, dropped to the ground, and she’s been like that pretty much ever since. She says she can feel Stone, but it’s bad. He must be in trouble. Not that we didn’t know that before, but… we might be running out of time here.”

Moira cursed. Cress shifted, gathering up a handful of dirt. He steadied himself and passed it to Terra, and the emotional backlash from that almost knocked him over as she focused on what the earth was telling her. The dirt fell free, and she went back to sobbing.

Cress pushed himself back up. “All I got from that was pain, so I’d say bad sums it up rather well.”

Moira bit her lip. “We need to move.”

“I’ll get her calm and then I’m going to need another hour or so in the lake. I’m sorry. I know it’s urgent, and I am not wanting to leave Stone where he is any longer than we have to—”

“We need you at full strength, or as close as we can get under the circumstances.”

“I guess that means no more lessons in control,” Enya said, giving Cress a worried look. Sherwin sighed. He wished he could help her. Hell, if any of them could do anything close to what Cress could, it would be nice.

“Not necessarily,” Flint said. “If we stick to the basics, you shouldn’t be able to do anything I can’t counter.”

“And you don’t need me, Enya. If you’re going to have control, it will be because you did it, not me, not even in a support role,” Cress said. He adjusted Terra’s position against him. “I think she’s about asleep now. Will you take her inside, Sherwin? Or Flint? Either of you would be fine…”

Sherwin moved in, needing to be useful. Terra felt tiny when he lifted her up, and he couldn’t remember when the last time she’d eaten was. They had to make sure she took better care of herself.

Enya bent down next to Cress. “You’re exhausted again.”

He gave Enya a small smile. “In pain, actually. I opened myself up to what the earth was telling her, and it hurt. Stone’s in trouble. Help me up. I have to get to Occie.”

Author’s Note: There’s a scene in the second story that goes into why Moira and Cress shared the leadership and what bonded them into their roles, but this one has a priceless bit from her, and a glimpse of why she is the way she is.

The Ever Changing Wind

“I think I know why you call him a fish.”

Moira smiled, amused by the tone of the rogue’s voice. “He’s still underwater, isn’t he? First time he did that, he scared the hell out of everyone. Stayed under for a good ten minutes, we all figured he must have drowned and we’d never find him in the bottom of that lake. Then up he pops with this obnoxious smile and said that he wanted to go snorkeling because he’d never need a diving tank.”

“He’s got more of a sense of humor than I thought.”

She shrugged. “You have to know Cress to get his humor. He’s not easy to read.”

“Yeah… I’m wondering about him, though, because… Well, he took on that bastard who killed my sister knowing he couldn’t handle it on his own, and just now, back at the lake before his disappearing fish routine, he said something about Enya needing to learn to control it on her own, without him to calm her.”

“He’s got a point. He can’t always be focused on keeping her calm. If we get in a fight, he’s got way too much going on. He can’t be worrying about any one of us because what he’s doing is ten times more taxing than what we are. If we’re not taking care of our own end, the whole thing falls apart.”

“That what happened to your other earth?”

“Terra overextended herself, and Stone knew it. He went to protect his little sister, and he paid for it. She probably could have pulled out of it in time and saved herself, but he took those bullets for her, and that’s half the reason she’s the way she is right now.”

Flint nodded. “Makes sense. You’ve got a real problem, though. Your former leader is suicidal.”

Moira let out a breath. “No. He overreacted to something that happened earlier, but he’s not like that most of the time.”


“My brother the idiot kissed Enya right in front of him.”

“And your brother missed the memo on that… how?”

Moira would like to know that herself. She didn’t see how it could be more obvious, but maybe Sherwin needed things spelled out in black and white and filed in triplicate. She didn’t know. “No one’s ever really talked about it. Our love lives are our own. They’re private. I don’t need to know what any of the others are doing, believe me. Stone made no secret of how he felt about Occie, and Sherwin’s not shy about flirting with just about anyone, but the rest of us… That’s something we don’t discuss. We all know that Occie loves Stone, too, but to my knowledge, she never said it aloud.”

“That got something to do with the damage their parents did to them?”

“Maybe. There’s a lot neither of them told us. I called Cress on his crap once, and he just kind of blinked and said if I knew, why did he have to tell me? That’s how his mind works. If he knows you know—and in general, he does—he doesn’t say anything.”

“Must have made working with him as your leader interesting.”

Moira folded her arms over her chest. “You trying to pick a fight with me?”

“You’re quick to defend him. I’m trying to figure out why.”

“Oh? So you want to imply something about me and Cress? You figure I’ve been pining for him all this time, working as his second because I never got over some pathetic crush I had on him when we were children? Dear heaven, what will I do now that you know my terrible secret? Please don’t tell him. I couldn’t bear if he knew.”

Flint laughed. “That was good. You almost kept a straight face, and that is very impressive. I enjoyed it thoroughly.”

She couldn’t help a small smile. “Even if I had ever had any feelings for him, I knew a long time ago that they would never amount to anything. Just like everyone knew with Stone.”

“Hmm. Since the only other male in your group is your brother—wait. Enya’s brother. Were you two ever—”


“Now that one was not half so con—”

He was across the room and in the wall before Moira realized she’d lost control of her emotions. Damn him for needling her that way. She hated the way he got under her skin. He was nothing like Aidan, and she didn’t need this. She wanted to get rid of him, now, but she knew that they needed him, that Enya did, and she’d overcome a lot just to accept that offer. No, Moira knew she couldn’t get rid of the bastard, but she could make sure that he stayed away from her.

Far away.

Author’s Note: A bit of strategy for Enya’s practice, a bit of bonding, a bit of worry…

A Discourse Between Fire and Water

“Baby steps.”

Flint caught the look Washburne gave him, and he shrugged. That was what they were. He’d never met anyone as terrified of their element as Enya, and she was looking at a long time in getting over it, just like anyone with trauma had. Hers was different, most of them didn’t fear themselves, but she did. So she’d have to take it slow. He understood that. He wasn’t trying to push her.

Windy thought he was, but then that woman would probably disagree with any choice he made just to spite him. Funny enough, he liked that about her. He also liked how much she hated being called Windy. That made it that much enjoyable to use.

“I’m surprised you’d be willing to settle for that.”

“Hey, asking her freaked her out so bad you had almost killed yourself talking her down, so I figure baby steps are a good thing. Just like giving her space now is a good thing. She’ll clear her head, and if she thinks she can try for more, she will. She’s more of a fighter than she thinks.”

“Don’t you mean than we think?”

“Maybe that, too. Look, if you’re worried about it, I’m not interested in her that way. There’s… I get the same feeling around her as I did when my sister was alive, and it’s just too damn wrong to cross that line. You don’t have reason to worry about that. I’m not out to seduce her. I’m trying to help.”

“Never said you were trying to seduce her. I know you’re not.”

Flint grimaced. “Oh. You can… sense that?”

“Living with Sherwin is hell.”

“Point taken.” Flint put his hands in his pockets. “It’s not like it’s easy to balance any kind of relationship while you’re on the run. Probably why those perfect pairs you’ve got going on are brother and sister. Love’s way too complicated to manage while you’re dealing with elements and us ‘rogues’ and whatever the hell that water elemental is.”


Flint laughed. He couldn’t argue with the other man’s assessment. “They said you crossed paths with him before, but no one bothered to say what happened when you did.”

“He froze me, babbled on about me being water, said I was one to watch… I suppose he sees me as competition, and I am, to a degree, but he’s got at least twenty years on me as far as control goes, and if that fight had gone on longer, I’d have lost.”

“Yeah. So why’d you go up against him anyway?”

“Figured he might be interested in telling me where Stone was.”

“Did he?”


Flint frowned. “Okay, why, if you are the most powerful one and the one that lead them for twelve years—why the hell would you think that exchanging yourself for him would be worth it?”

“Terra’s half-insane without him.”

“So? She can’t do what you can do.”

“My sister’s married to him.”

“Damn.” Flint put a hand to his head. That complicated the hell out of things. Oceana was stuck trying to balance her brother while she was grieving, and she couldn’t do that forever. She’d crumble, Washburne would go with her, and there went half the team right there. “Even so… Why you for him? I don’t think that’s an equitable exchange.”

Washburne shrugged. “I don’t have to explain my reasons to you.”

“I thought you were supposed to be the calm one. Wouldn’t have figured on you being so—”

“If Enya is going to work on her control, there will have to be a point at which she does it without me around to stop her or keep her calm.”

Flint blinked. “Um, true, but I think she’s a ways off from that point, so why are you using that to change the subject? You know that was one of the clumsiest dodges I’ve ever heard because it was completely obvious.”

“She has to be able to control it on her own, without me, or she may as well have never tried. I won’t always be there.”

“Are you—” Flint shook his head, staring at the lake. “All right, where the hell did you go?”

Author’s Note: I couldn’t help being reminded of the lake not far from my sister’s house when I wrote this. Well, that and the lake my uncle lives next to.

What the Water Needs

“Something go wrong at the bank?”

Cress shook his head, taking the first chair he could find. “No. Just… did our best not to lead them back here. If we are going to attempt to stay in one place, to plan and let Enya work on her control for a while before we make our move, the last thing we need is them knowing where we are.”

“So you drained yourself creating fake storms again?”

“He drained himself trying to teach me to make fake storms. Poor baby. He was so frustrated,” Oceana said, touching her brother’s cheek with a smile. He’d been rather patient, but she knew how much that had taken out of him, not just in teaching her and not intervening, but in keeping himself from yelling at her every time she failed to do what he wanted.

Cress sighed. “I don’t know how to teach someone to do it, not even Occie. For me, it’s so simple and I don’t really think about it, but I’ve been trying to show her, and it doesn’t make sense. I don’t… I don’t understand why I am the way I am—and a part of me doesn’t want to know.”

“I don’t blame you for that,” Oceana told him. She gave his cheek a kiss. “Go on. You’ve more than earned your lake time. I’ll see if I can find a beach ball or something…”

He glared at her, but it fell away to a smile. Playing in water almost always cheered him up, turning him more into the child he never had much of a chance to be. He pulled away from her, and she grinned as he walked toward the back door, opening it to let the smell of the lake water rush in at them.

“Oh, this is one of those places I could stay forever.”

“I think just about all of us could,” Moira said, coming over to Occie’s side. “If not for your parents, maybe we could have bought one of these kind of run down hotels out off the beaten path, each of us made a cabin our own, and lived out a quiet, peaceful life.”

“That what you’re interested in?”

“It’s not you, Firebug, that’s for sure.”

Oceana frowned, and Cress laughed, shaking his head as he ducked out the door. Moira rolled her eyes, shaking her head as she did. “He’s loopy now, isn’t he?”

“Cress? I don’t know. I guess that depends on if he goes down there and skinny-dips or not.”

Flint frowned. “You have got to be kidding. That man does not skinny-dip.”

“Not in the daytime, at least,” Oceana said with a smile, looking back at the door. “So if anyone decides they want to go down there, they don’t need to fear being flashed or anything. It is just that the more contact he has with the water the better it is for him. He needs to get as much of him under the water as possible and keep it that way for as long as he can.”

“Yet you two still get mad when I call you ‘guppies’ or mention anything about fish.”

Oceana gave Enya a look. “I thought you knew why he was so sensitive to that. Hannah throwing him over because he was ‘like a fish’ after she’d led him on for so long…”

“Yeah, there’s that, but he’s such a kid when he’s in the water or around it. I remember telling him about this lake I used to see from work, all drained because of drought, and when I lost that job, I walked over and sat on the beach, just watching that pathetic bit of water, and next thing I know, it’s up against my feet and he’s sitting next to me, telling me to take some of the money our parents had to tide me over until the economy got better. First time I’d seen him in years, and it was like he hadn’t aged a day over ten when we used to take those trips to the lake and he’d claim it for his own. Of course, that didn’t last forever. I could see it all when he said he was going—the life went out of him, the worry was back, and he looked like someone way past his age all over again.”

“That’s my brother,” Oceana agreed. She let out a breath. “We left what was in the safe-deposit box in the car. I’m not sure I ever saw the key before, not in any of the times we went to look at that thing and see what we might need from it, neither of us know what it’s for, but it’s got his name on it. I think he’s going to need a while before he can deal with that, so… Just let him be a kid in the water for a change.”

Moira nodded. “He can have some time. We won’t be ready to go after Stone right away, and we still don’t know for sure where he is.”

Oceana closed her eyes. “I’m going down to join Cress.”

Terra put a hand on her arm. “We’ll get him back, Occie. We have to get him back.”

Oceana pulled away from her. She couldn’t afford to let those floodgates open right now. She had to keep that back, hold it in until—well, she would rather just get Stone back and never deal with those feelings at all. “I hope so.”