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.”


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.

Choices and Chocolate

Author’s Note: So I was supposed to be getting additional prompts to help me fulfill the ones for Sunday Scribblings or Carry On Tuesday, but I managed to be inspired in ways that didn’t have anything to do with the prompts from those sites. Oops?

Anyway, this picture led me to this brief exchange.

Choices and Chocolate

“You know what irritates me?”

He looked at her, not sure why she’d bothered talking to him since most of the time she was content to pretend he didn’t exist. It didn’t matter if they were alone together or not. She could do a better job at the cold shoulder than his sister, and that said something. “Everything?”

“Shut up, Sherwin.”

He shrugged. “You asked. It’s not my fault you’re a brat, you know. That’s your choice.”

Terra gave him a thin smile. “Does that mean that being an airhead is your choice?”

“Very funny.”

She grinned. “I thought so.”

He grunted. She was living up to her reputation as a brat right now, but he was too tired to let her bait him. Not this time. “All right. What frustrates you?”

“With all the things that I can grow, I can’t grow chocolate. I’m earth. I’m plant girl. I can make gardens sprout and blossom in ways that defy nature,” she said, gesturing rather wildly, and he ducked so that she didn’t take his head off. “Still, I can’t grow chocolate. I love chocolate.”

He laughed. She smacked him. He smiled even though it hurt a little. She could be amusing sometimes, and he liked seeing her—the real her—show through. So she was a chocolate lover, was she? He knew a thing or two about rare, expensive chocolates, and he bet that would cheer her up. “Would it make any difference if we got you some cocoa seeds?”

“I tried that. It didn’t make a difference. They wouldn’t grow.”

He shrugged. “Then I guess we’ll just buy you all the chocolate you can eat.”



She smiled—a real smile this time, not a smirk, not one that mocked him. “Maybe you’re not such a jerk after all.”

Author’s Note: This is the point at which I said, “Oops, story’s… over.” Then I also said, “no, it’s not, there’s more so I have to keep going.” 40,000 words later, that was a huge mistake. I went back to this point and changed directions, and so while this is not an ending in some people’s opinions, this is where this part of the story ends. After the mistake in taking the story one direction, I’m not really thinking I’ll put up the next bit unless there’s a real interest in seeing it, just because I’m not sure it’ll work this way, either.

Not Just Trouble

“The rain stopped.”

“Enya, what are you doing? We’re supposed to wait here.”

She knew that, but she couldn’t help pushing the door open anyway. She couldn’t feel anyone or anything, not even Flint, and she didn’t like being so far removed from everyone else and what was going on. She didn’t want to sit alone and wait for something to come at her. She understood now what she’d done in hiding from her abilities, and she cursed herself for it, for leaving her and the others so helpless by her lack of control.

“Don’t go. I can feel Stone. He’s awake, and I can tell he’s doing better. We’re almost done here,” Terra said, taking hold of Enya’s arm. She looked at the hand and shook her head, pulling free as she stepped down onto the street.

“They might be, but that doesn’t mean that Cress is,” Enya said as she started toward where they’d left him. She didn’t know what she expected to be able to do; she knew she didn’t have control and shouldn’t use her ability, even if she’d had a lesson or two from Flint. She hoped that she wouldn’t have to use it, to rely on anything that she could do, but she knew something was wrong. She’d known it before Cress got out of the car.

“Enya,” Terra hissed, following after her. Enya knew she thought she was helping, trying to keep the one of them that couldn’t control anything close so that she could help if Enya got in trouble, but she didn’t want to need that, either. She was not a child. She would get better at controlling her abilities, and she’d make herself useful for a change. “Come on. They’ll be back at the car soon enough and—”

Enya watched the water flowing up through the streets, a flood rushing through the middle of the town, and she knew it was unnatural, even as she was soaked through by the rain pouring on top of them. She could see ice spreading across the street, heard glass shattering everywhere, and Terra caught hold of her arm, almost collapsing on top of her.

“Sorry. I feel… sick.”

Terra wasn’t the only one. Enya might not be as connected to fire as Terra was to earth, but she could feel how wrong this area was. She didn’t think Occie or Cress should get anywhere near here. This kind of wrongness could be fatal for a water elemental. Then again—this was where Cress was, and if he was fighting against that, he’d be in terrible shape, worse than anything he’d been through yet.

“Come on. We have to get closer. Cress is in trouble.”

“Trouble,” Terra said, and Enya almost rolled her eyes at the other woman’s mood, but Terra shook her head. “This is not just… trouble. I think he’s dead.”

Enya refused to accept that. She dragged Terra forward, around the corner, wishing she could use one of Flint’s tricks to warm up the street. The water was freezing, and most of the area had gone to ice. They’d have more normals to rescue, and they couldn’t afford to do that, either, not when they needed to get Stone and Cress away to safety.

Not that they’d abandon anyone to freeze to death, either.

“Oh, hell,” Terra said, and Enya looked over to see what had her cursing. She’d expected to see Cress on the ground, unconscious or worse, but that… that was something else. Lightning flashed along the edges of the darkness, a hole ripped right in the middle of nowhere, as though the fabric of space and time itself had gotten torn, leaving a dangerous vortex in its place, only it was not drawing either of them into it.

“He did it. He used Cress to break the barrier.”

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: 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: 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.”

Author’s Note: A short bit to get past the waiting and take care of some practical things.

A Few Distractions

“I’d forgotten what it felt like to have clean clothes.”

“I’d forgotten what it smelled like when you had clean clothes.”

Enya glared at Sherwin, shaking her head. Sometimes he could be such a child. She had a feeling she knew what had prompted that comment, but she didn’t regret what she’d done. She didn’t love him, and Cress needed someone to hug him, and it couldn’t always be Occie. She needed her own chance to rebuild as much as Cress did, shouldn’t have to put aside her own feelings all the time to keep her brother even close to balanced. In some ways, she was just as self-sacrificing as he was. Maybe even more so.

“You should just tell the lady she cleans up nice and be done with it,” Flint advised. “That’s what you need to remember. Advice to live by, especially with a fire elemental. My sister would have burned your ass for that.”

Enya smiled at him. “Thank you.”

Flint gave her a slight bow. “You’re welcome.”

Sherwin gave her a look. “You two getting a bit… cozy all of a sudden? I know you’ve been gone for a long time, Enya, but you know better than to get too comfortable with a rogue.”

“We have to be willing to work as a team if we are to have any chance of taking down Aether, remember? Don’t tell me that you’re really going to throw that away because I rejected you.”

Sherwin gave her a dark look and walked away. Flint shook his head. “Some of us don’t get it until we’re hit over the head with it. Sometimes not even then.”

She ran her hands over her arms. “It wasn’t just him. I gave in way too many times in the past.”

“Huh. You and Mr. Hot Air. Hadn’t gotten that vibe.”

She shook her head. “It was over a long time ago. No vibe to get. It’s just been a long time since he saw me, so he thought he’d try and pick up where we left off. Timing sucks, and he hasn’t grown up as much as he wants to think he has. I wish it wasn’t taking so long for Cress and Oceana to get back. I know he’s got the key and she’s the only other person authorized to open the stupid thing, but it’s so…”

“I’m not a fan of waiting, either. At least you had a few distractions. Though… I’m not sure anything could take away the worry.”

“Why would I be worried?”

“Why, indeed?” Flint asked, giving her a grin as he walked over to join Moira. Enya laughed. That’s what Sherwin should be worried about right there. She didn’t think that Flint was interested in her, but Moira… the air elemental was in trouble.

Terra came up next to her. “This should get interesting, don’t you think?”

Enya gave her a look. “Look who’s head is out of the sand. If a change of clothes was all it took, I guess we should have stopped for them a lot sooner.”

“Ha ha. No, I’m leveling out. I think we’re getting closer to Stone, and that seems to help. Either that, or Cress is back.”

“I hope so.”

Terra gave her a look, and Enya winced. She hadn’t meant to say anything out loud. She turned toward Moira, making sure to watch as Flint went to work at getting under her skin again. She had a feeling there would be plenty of entertainment on this trip, even knowing what they were going to be doing and what they were up against.

“You think that Sherwin is going to get the message any time soon?”

“Maybe what he needs is for earth to knock him on his butt. No, wait, that doesn’t work with him. Moira’s tried. If I knew anyone I could throw in his path, I just might toss them that way. You haven’t done that, have you?”

Terra rolled her eyes. “Please. I’m like the only woman besides his sister that he hasn’t hit on. I must be too… dirty for him.”

“If you wanted him, you could get him.”

“Only a fool would want him.”

Author’s Note: So they’re still asking questions, still sorting it all out. Not all of the questions are easy, nor are the answers or the feelings they bring up.

Not Accusing, but Not Understanding

“I’m not so sure his sister is the one he needs to rebuild,” Flint said, and Moira shoved him, not wanting to get into any kind of discussion like that. They didn’t pry into each other’s lives, not unless they were stupid like Sherwin. Moira wasn’t that stupid, not even with her relation to him.

“We need to get going.”

“I never made it to the safe-deposit box,” Cress said, fidgeting in Enya’s hold. “I think we’d better do that before we get too much further. I don’t know what all is in there, but we might end up needing it. Or it might have more of our answers.”

“You never looked at all of it?”

He shook his head, this time forcing himself away from Enya as he started to pace. “They told me that my instructions were there. You think I wanted to torment myself by reading what they expected me to do? It was bad enough what they told me to do, but to have to read it in black and white, all of that horror in undeniable print? I didn’t want that. I didn’t want that memory that I couldn’t get out of my head. I had enough of them already.”

“Cress, it wasn’t an accusation. Moira’s just trying to understand,” Enya said, reaching to touch him and drawing back at the last moment. “We all are. What we’ve learned about our parents—your parents—it’s hard to take. We don’t want to know, not any more than you did, and so then we come up against the idea of you knowing and not telling us—”

“They were dead. I wanted that to die with them. I know it was wrong, but it was bad enough contemplating what was before us without—the mind can only handle so much, you know? I’ll admit it. I was a coward. I didn’t think I could survive the emotional backlash of you all finding out. Even now, it’s not easy. I’m better at coping with that kind of thing, but back then… I was weak, I knew it, and I made a selfish decision to save myself. I made a lot of selfish decisions.”

Enya took hold of his arm. “Not all of them were selfish. You know that.”

He grimaced, and she pulled him back into her embrace, holding tight to him as the others stood around, uncertain how to react. Occie was the one who always did this for him, but she was standing back with a frown. Sherwin stared like he couldn’t believe it. Terra had found her hair fascinating all of a sudden. Flint just shrugged.

Moira gave them another minute before she cleared her throat. “I don’t know how I feel about not knowing, to be honest. A part of me is pissed, and another part of me figures you were probably right, given how badly you’re struggling with the backlash now. You had a judgment call to make, and you know what? For as many mistakes as you might have made, there were plenty of times where you made the right call or the hard call or the only call you could. That isn’t easy, and until someone else stands up here to do what you did for twelve years, they’ve got no right to criticize. You made this look easy, damn you, and it’s anything but.”

Cress almost smiled. “Anything to lure you into a false sense of security so that you’d take over.”

“Yeah, right.” Moira opened the door with the wind, letting it go around to the others as well, knocking Sherwin out of his stupor. “In the car. We need to move. Again.”