Not Cheating or a Unique Slumber Party

Author’s Note: So I had a bit of a downturn this weekend, and I asked for prompts to keep me working/writing and enjoying what I wrote instead of going into the hate cycle of my apparent love/hate relationship with writing.

This time isn’t fluff so much as “keep me writing” which could be fluff, but isn’t necessarily fluff.

Anyway, this prompt was Enya + pillow fight, and it ended up turning into two pieces that I went ahead and put together because one spawned the other.

Not Cheating/A Unique Slumber Party

“No fair. You’re cheating.”

Enya pulled the pillow close to her, looking over at her… friend and forcing a smile. She almost considered saying that no one could cheat in a pillow fight, but that wasn’t true. She wanted to say that this wasn’t cheating—if she wanted to cheat, all she had to do was burn that other pillow right out of the other woman’s hands, and it would be all over. She wasn’t cheating.

“I’m just used to fighting with a bit more opposition,” Enya said, not wanting to think about being fire, not right now. She was normal here, and she wanted to stay that way. That was why she was here and not with the others, so that she didn’t have to worry about fighting in other ways. She could have harmless pillow fights instead of infernos that killed.

“More opposition?”

“I… I had a large extended family. Kind of like a bunch of cousins even though we weren’t related by blood,” she said, letting out a breath. “And Sherwin always fought dirty—though Moira might have been worse. It usually meant that Cress would have to come in and calm us all down.”

“You sound like you miss them.”

“I do,” she said, closing her eyes. “I always do.”

“No fair!” Terra cried, though Enya would have said it wasn’t fair that she covered herself in a dirt mound to avoid being hit with a pillow or three, and she didn’t know where Aiden had disappeared to in all this chaos but she figured he was hiding out at one of the other houses because he’d been so insistent on not participating in the fight.

She didn’t understand that. Stone was bigger than all of them and always worried he would hurt them, but he was playing, and he’d even managed to get a few good hits in on Occie—the girl he swore he was going to marry.

Sherwin caught Enya around the waist, and she squirmed, trying to get out of the hold. She went to hit him with her pillow, but he kissed her, and she forgot all about the pillow fight.

At least—she did until all the pillows erupted in their faces. Coughing through the feathers, Enya glared at the culprit behind their impromptu feathering. At least she hadn’t been working with one of the waters—they’d be stuck that way if she had.


The air elemental shrugged, looking smug, but her brother wasn’t amused, and feathers flew again as he chased her around the room. The house shook, and someone bumped Terra, so the ground rumbled, and Enya found herself backing against the wall and hoping that she wouldn’t feel the need to use fire. Ever.

Water rushed over them, and Enya shivered a bit. Cress walked into the room, rubbing at his forehead. “Clearly it is a bad idea to try and sleep around the rest of you.”

She laughed. “I told you that you should have just joined us.”

He looked at her with a slight frown. “Like you wanted the wet blanket around when you were having fun.”

“It might have been more fun if you were a part of it.”

“New game,” Sherwin said. “Everyone get Cress.”

“We don’t have any more pillows thanks to Moira.”


Aquatic Oversensitivity

Author’s Note: So this answers the prompt Occie/Stone: bubble bath.

The thing is, Occie can be a bit sensitive about her water.

Aquatic Oversensitivity



“Did you some how lose your memory and forget who you married?”

He came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her and rocking her. Oceana closed her eyes, trying not to let him distract her. She did not understand what he thought he was doing, but this was not amusing. “What makes you think I could ever do that?”

“You said you were going to start a bath.”

“I did. In fact, I didn’t just start one—it’s full and ready and waiting for you to enjoy it.”

She shook her head. “Should I say something about you having rocks for brains? I am water. I don’t do bubble baths. Ever. I can’t stand salt in my bottled water. I don’t do dishes because I can’t tolerate soap. I don’t do chlorine or fluoride in my water and I—”

“I’m going to ignore that comment about rocks and remember that I have always loved you,” Stone said, and she grimaced, about to apologize, but all of that was forgotten when he lifted her up and carried her over to the tub.

“Put me down—and not in that adulterated water. Do you have any idea how many chemicals are in that stuff? I am not touching that water.”

“Occie, do you trust me?”

“Usually, yes, but this is—”

“Touch the water. Do what you do with it, that forensic deconstruction that I envy so much.”

She frowned, but he lowered her to where she could touch the water. When her fingers dipped into the tub, she cursed herself for being a fool. “When did you have time to ask Cress to do that?”

“Not telling. Now are you going to get in your bath or not?”

“Only if you’re getting in there with me.”

Not Playing House

Author’s Note: So this is one of the prompts I filled during the fluffy prompt fest following my completion of Fire and Water’s saga. Liana Mir gave me Occie/Stone and first kiss. This moment had been in the back of my head since I first met those two, and so it was not hard to write.

Stone always knew what he wanted. Occie didn’t see it the same way, not at first.

Not Playing House

“Oceana Washburne, I love you.”

She gave Stone a look, shaking her head as she did. “You don’t know what love is. None of us do.”

He sat down next to her, his legs making hers look short and scrawny, but Stone had always been big for his age. That was what the Landons said, anyway. Her parents acted like he’d done something wrong somehow, but she didn’t know what that could have been because Stone was one of the best behaved kids she’d ever met.

“Yes, you do. You love your parents, don’t you?”

She hesitated, looking back at the house. She didn’t think they were listening, and she didn’t know that anyone would understand if she said she didn’t think she did. She shrugged.

Stone frowned a bit, but he tried again. “You love your brother.”

That time she nodded. That felt right. She knew Cress better than anyone, and they were close. They were twins, so everyone expected it, but she could feel him sometimes, like she knew exactly where he was even if he wasn’t nearby. That was silly, though, and Oceana didn’t do silly. “I’m not your sister.”

“I know that. I love Terra, but not like I love you.”

Oceana frowned. “That doesn’t make sense, Stone.”

“Yes, it does,” he insisted. He took her hand. “I’m going to marry you someday.”

“I am not playing house today or any other day. I think that is one of the stupidest games ever created. I don’t see why anyone would want to pretend to be our parents. I don’t even like—I just think it’s dumb.”

Stone leaned over and kissed her. Not the sort of kiss her parents stumbled over giving her, not the kind of thing Cress did when he was feeling sentimental, but a kiss like on television or the movies. She reached up to push Stone away—she’d said she wasn’t playing house, why didn’t he get that?—but he let go and touched her cheek. “I’m not playing at anything, Occie. I love you.”

She stood. “We are not getting married, and I am never playing house with you again.”

“This isn’t a game. Someday you’ll know that.”

She rolled her eyes, but she found herself tracing her lips as she walked inside. She wasn’t going to admit that she’d liked the kiss.

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: Occie and Cress had to have their conversation…

Not So Tranquil Waters

“Never seen you take such a back role. Ever,” Oceana said as she joined her brother, aware of what he was watching and how careful he’d been to stay out of the line of sight of everyone on the shore. He was as close as he could be, yet far enough as to be out of range, not letting his empathic abilities bleed over to them.

“You know I can’t teach her what she needs to know, and I can’t be the reason she thinks she can control it. She has to know that it was her doing. Not mine.”

Oceana nodded. That part she approved of, and she was proud of him for stepping back at this point. “True, but are you sure it’s just that?”

“Are you saying something about Enya and Flint?”

Her eyes went back to the shore. The two fire elementals were getting close, fast, but then it wasn’t much of a surprise. Oceana figured that he wanted to have someone like a sister again, and Enya needed him as a teacher and a surrogate for Aidan. It had the potential for being more than that, too. “So the thought has crossed your mind.”

Cress shrugged. “If it’s going to happen, it will.”

“Damn it, Cress, why do you have to do this?”

“Not sure what you’re upset about. Enya needs to make her own choices. She has to decide her own path, and her control has to be hers. She is the one who needs to take responsibility for it, and that means that I cannot have a part in it, regardless I might feel about trying to help her. I didn’t come out here for her, anyway.”

“No, you came out here for a quick rinse and renew that patches you up for a little while, but not long enough. It’s never long enough anymore.”

“We don’t have time for me to stay in the water as long as I would need.”

“You can’t kill yourself to—”

“Stone is dying.”


“Terra called it bad. I could filter it more when she went through it. He’s been cut off from the earth, and when you’re injured and cut off from your element… That kind of pain is distinctive, and it’s worse than anything I’ve ever known. If we don’t go to him soon, he will not make it back no matter what happens.”

She closed her eyes. “Cress…”

He put his hands on her shoulders. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so blunt. I just… We don’t have a choice. We have to go. I didn’t even want to take this time, but I had to. After going through that, I… I needed something from the water.”

She nodded, putting her hands on his face. “You know how much Stone means to me, and I know you’re not even skimming the surface of what that did to you, so don’t start apologizing. Just try not to get yourself killed because you know what he is to me. I need both of you, not just the one. Don’t ever make me pick.”

“Funny. For years, I did, and you picked me.”

She sighed. She had a horrible feeling that one way or another, she’d lose one of them, and a part of her wanted to stop this before it started. She could save her brother. She knew that. She could keep him here and make sure he stayed safe. Stone was already injured; he might not make it out no matter what they did. The practical thing to do was to pick Cress.

“Come on. We have to go.”


“We are not leaving him behind. Not again. That time I swear he was dead, I couldn’t feel anything from him, but this time he isn’t, and I won’t do it. I can’t make the same mistake twice.”

Author’s Note: Because Occie and Stone were always a couple, even when they thought they weren’t.

Blessing in the Rain

“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.”

“Don’t start.”

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.”

“I know.”

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.

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.”