Nighttime Comfort

Author’s Note: I was not happy with what I did for the first part of my new album challenge. It’s an important part of the one story, but it wasn’t as fitting with the prompt as I usually do and it was not… my best effort at all. I didn’t even do something new, just found an old piece. So… I have fixed that.

This time we’re back to Carson and Mackenna and the not finished sequel.

This fits with Together Alone and the lyrics I used before even better, I think.

We’ll grow old, we’ll take care of each other
I’ll be your sister, your mother, your lover


We’re believers, we’ve been hurt by believing
Needing people, we know looking’s not seeing

There’s even more to it than this, and it fits the other lyrics of learning balance and rhythmn, too.

Nighttime Comfort

“Carson?” Mackenna asked, reaching over to touch him, trying to be as gentle as she could. She knew he didn’t want to admit it, but in addition to his frustration with the job hunting, the nightmares from when his father died were worse these days. Knowing what had really happened then was only part of the problem.

The way his family had lied about what happened would probably always haunt him, even if he had the truth. What they’d done hadn’t helped him, hadn’t done him any favors, and she still got mad thinking about how they could have told him, ended his torment, instead of sending him to a therapist, getting him drugged up, and letting him think he was crazy.

If things had been worse, if he’d really started to believe the worst of himself, he could have ended up like her uncle, and she still couldn’t get that image out of her head. She understood the man was in pain, but she wished he’d asked for help.

Or at least waited until she wouldn’t be the only one there to find him.

She felt Carson trembling and sighed, wrapping her arms around him and holding on, as much for her own sake as his. She wanted to stop the nightmares for him, take them all way, but life didn’t work that way. This was their attempt at happily ever after, but they both weren’t kidding themselves. They knew it wasn’t that easy.

“Admittedly, this might be easier if we’d fallen asleep in the actual bed,” Mackenna muttered, but he didn’t answer, not that she would have wanted him to, not unless he was awake. She rested her head against his chest. “Should I say something profound and meaningful now? You’re too asleep to hear me. Um… I could do the standard lines of ‘it’s over. You’re fine. You’re safe. I’m here. I’ll protect you from any of that.’ How terrible is it I feel like I’m talking to a child?”

“Arguably… my emotional growth was badly stunted as one, so…”

“That woke you?”

“I don’t know what woke me,” Carson said, pulling her closer, “but if it was you, thank you. I… I had the worst one again. No, not the worst one. I can’t decide which is worse, to be honest, the one where it turned out it was me… or the one where he didn’t just… fake that part.”

Mackenna winced. She sat up and reached to run her fingers through his hair. “I was just getting mad at your family for covering it up, and now I’m kind of pissed.”

“Do not go picking fights with him again. Please. It was… he was honoring my grandfather’s wishes, even if they were all misguided and I don’t think it did my mom any favors, either.”

“No, she still believed in your father, and it ate her up inside. It was no better than trying to convince you forgetting it was best and none of it ever happened,” Mackenna said, shaking her head. “It’s frustrating, even if there’s nothing I can do about it now.”

He shrugged. “You’re here, aren’t you? You don’t have to be, but you signed up for it as a friend and then a psuedo-sister and now… a lot more than that.”

“Oh, is that all?” Mackenna teased, very aware of the ring on her finger. He laughed and kissed her forehead. “Face it. You’re stuck with me for life, not that we didn’t agree to that almost from the beginning.”

He nodded. “I know, but back then all you wanted was my car.”

She laughed. “Well, you know me, I’m a sucker for antiques.”

“Which doesn’t explain us.”

She smiled. “I have a weakness for fixer-uppers, too. I like me a good project.”

“Nice. I feel very insulted.”

“No, you don’t. You feel loved.”

“And very unworthy of it, but yes,” he said before kissing her temple. “I think we’d better try again to sleep. You’ve got a lot to do on the new car, and I need to job hunt again.”

“Nope, you’re my slave for the day, remember? It’s Sunday, no job hunting for you. Just a lazy morning for us and the car.”

“And Mac?”

She winced. “He won’t want us to, but we should probably check on him, too.”

A Possible Opening Scene

Author’s Note: This scene has been reworked a couple times, changing it from what it was. I originally had a discovery about the car made a lot sooner, and so this is the second version where I backed it off a little in the hopes of developing the plot more naturally. I thought I’d try sharing some actual writing, even if this is something I wrote a while back just haven’t really been able to continue.

I did share some of this story before, just not this part of it, which I should have as it’s the first scene.

A Possible Job

“And so when I saw that picture in the paper, I figured that you were the best person to bring this to,” the woman said, and Mackenna tried not to grimace as she spoke. She did not want to think about what picture had been in what paper, since all the stories had exaggerated the situation and made her into something that she wasn’t. She didn’t want to have to explain the truth right now, either.

She should just be glad that it meant more business for her, but she wasn’t sure that she wanted it, not like this. She used to think any publicity was good publicity, a way to create a foothold in a profession dominated by men, but what happened a few months ago had changed her opinion on all of that. She ran her hands over her arms, hoping she still had a few more weeks before fall settled in. She would need them if she was going to do this. “I’m not a miracle worker, Mrs. Brendt. I may not be able to do much with this, even if it looks to be more or less intact. You can see that there was damage done to the frame here and here, and beyond that, there’s a good deal of rust. I believe this car sat outside for a very long time, though some of it could have been from a leak if that roof was in poor shape. I’m really not in a state to make any promises here.”

“It’s Dorie. Or Dorinda. Leave off the Brendt as much as possible. One of these days, I’ll get it all switched back to my maiden name, but I haven’t quite managed that yet.”

“Oh.” Mackenna hadn’t realized that the other woman was divorced, and she was almost tempted to hide the ring on her own finger after that statement. Not that she’d had anything to do with Dorie’s marital troubles, but she didn’t need to be flaunting the fact that she was a happy newlywed, either.

“Sorry. You wouldn’t know. It’s… It’s still a bit of a sore spot for me, him leaving me for a girl that’s barely out of high school, and there’s an unkind part of me that figures that he doesn’t want them any older than that, since that’s how old I was when I fell for his crap, but I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. I’m afraid my mouth runs off when it gets started.”

Mackenna smiled, tempted to laugh. She was reminded of someone, and at the same time, she had to wonder if she brought this kind of reaction out in people, since Carson had been a lot like this when he pulled into the farm with his car. “It’s fine, trust me. I just want you to understand what we’re looking at here.”

“You mean besides a wreck?” Dorie laughed, pulling back the loose parts of her hair. “I can see that much for myself, but since I’m on the preservation committee and getting this car appraised is not only a part of my job but might mean something we can use either as an investment—the car would be worth a lot more repaired if the repairs are feasible within our budget—or as a part of the exhibit they’d like to create from the site where it was taken. I’m not sure we can accomplish either of those things, but it’s a shame to see an old classic like this just shoved away in the nearest junkyard.”

Mackenna nodded. “I hate seeing any cars going to the junkyard.”

“That’s not true. You let my car go there without any tears. You couldn’t wait to see that thing go,” Carson said, coming up behind her, and she turned back to him with a smile. She tried not to let it turn into a frown. From the expression on his face, the job hunting was still going badly, and he looked like he’d just as soon crawl into bed than spend any time with her or Mac tonight, but she’d see if she could cheer him up after Dorie was gone.

“That thing was a menace. It wasn’t even worth what you paid for it the first time,” Mackenna said, wrapping her arms around his waist. Maybe it was a good thing it was almost fall. He might be all sweaty if it wasn’t. “I didn’t hear you pull up.”

“The Woodsman died three miles back. I walked the rest of the way.”

“Oh.” She didn’t need Dorie hearing that. What kind of mechanic couldn’t keep her own truck running? Mackenna forced herself not to think about that and kissed his cheek. “Why don’t you go get cleaned up and rest your feet for a bit? Dorie and I have a few more things to discuss about her car here, and then I can heat up dinner.”

“If it just needs to be heated, I can handle that. You’re the one with the job,” Carson said, shaking his head. She knew they’d have to have another conversation about that later. She didn’t subscribe to the idea that the man had to be the breadwinner, and she didn’t think he did, either, but he was getting paranoid about not pulling his own weight. “You go ahead and take as long as you need.”

She put her hands on his face. She didn’t like that tone at all. “Don’t tell me more of them were idiots about this thing with your dad. Come on, that’s ridiculous. You know that you’re not responsible for anything he might have—”

“That’s not what they care about. Still, it’s not like the rest of my family were exactly… honest in that matter, either, so that doesn’t help. On the bright side, you can have me as your shade and water boy and all that while you get to work on this one.”

She shook her head. “As much as I love having your company while I’m fixing the cars, it’s not right that they won’t hire you. You’d be great at it. You’re over-qualified for most of these positions anyway.”

“It’s a recession. They want the excuse to not to hire me because they would have to pay me more. Or something. I’m going to head in and shower.” He kissed her cheek, and she sighed as she watched him walk away. She didn’t understand this world sometimes. Carson was a good man, and he’d be a good worker, but someone always found an excuse not to hire him. She’d do it, if she could afford to pay anyone else, and if he knew anything about cars. Without that, it was kind of pointless. She would keep teaching him in the meantime, both her and Mac would, but she didn’t know how much of a difference that would make.

She turned back to Dorie. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even introduce you.”

“I figured that was your husband. I saw the papers. That must have been a beautiful wedding.”

“I should have decked that reporter,” Mackenna muttered, shaking her head. She hadn’t thought their wedding would end up near the front page or that it would get into the associated press because of the rest of the stories about her and him and his father’s murder. Some of the stories were all about the way they’d dressed, and others exaggerated her role as the heroine again. She’d ripped up most of the ones she found, but she knew her sister-in-law was keeping a scrapbook of all that nonsense. “I’m going to get the forms real quick. Just sign them, and you’ll be good to go. You can leave the car with me for evaluation, and I’ll give you an estimate. I do charge for the evaluation, though.”

“Naturally. That’s not a problem. I’ll sign whatever needs to get signed. I still think you are the right person for this job.”

Mackenna forced a smile and hurried off to get the forms.

Still Standing

Author’s Note: I only really had one part of this song I wanted to do, and I knew who was getting the fic the first time I glanced at the lyrics. This one suggests a marriage that can stand in the face of everything to me, and that is Kate and Fletcher Kennedy. They withstood a lot over the years and are still married and ridiculously in love after more than thirty years.

This, of course, is just a brief look at one of the trials they had to overcome, as it fit with these lyrics:

This old routine will drive you mad
It’s just a mumble never spoken out loud
Sometimes you don’t even know how you’re still standing.
Well she looks at you now, and you see how.
Well you look at her now, and you know how.

~First Aid Kit, “This Old Routine”

Still Standing

He just put his son in the ground.

Nothing made this right. Nothing could.

Fletcher stared on at the grave, ignoring the words from the sermon, not caring what others might say, about hope or consolation or even sympathy. None of them could change the facts, and the fact was that Fletcher had outlived his son. He might even lose both of his brother’s boys. That was unacceptable. All of it was.

Kate’s hand brushed his, and Fletcher took it, instinct overriding the numbness he’d felt since they heard about the crash. He’d struggled to believe it, not wanting any of this as truth, and he knew his Katie girl was aching just as much if not worse than he was, that it wanted to kill her as it did him, but neither of them were the sort that gave in. They were Kennedys. They didn’t break easily, though this…

This was coming damn close.

His eyes met Kate’s, and he yanked his wife into his arms, needing to hold onto her. He was supposed to be the strong one, but he’d always found that she was tougher than him, more able to bear what life threw at her than he was.

“We’ll get through this somehow, Katie girl,” he promised, knowing that as much as neither of them might want it right now, they could. They would.


Can’t Keep Reaching for What You Don’t Have to Give

Author’s Note: Despite the many great lyrics in this song, there was only one real choice for doing fic from it, one story and one set of lyrics.

Now you’re just a shell of
Your former you
That stranger in the mirror
Oh, that’s you

~First Aid Kit, “Blue”

And since I have not shared any of this story on this site before, I will put the story’s summary at the end of this entry for anyone who needs it.

Can’t Keep Reaching for What You Don’t Have to Give

Recall should have cut and run years ago. Maybe the agency would find her and bring her back. Maybe not. She might have been free. The one who stood the best chance of finding her was gone, again, and she could be so far from here and all of this. She wouldn’t be staring in the face of broken promises and empty vessels.

He’d said he’d remember, and she’d almost believed him, but he didn’t. His eyes held that same vacancy, the lost and bewildered look he got when he didn’t know where he was or who he was. He did not know her, not as he had, not as he’d promised he would, and the man she’d made the mistake of considering a friend was gone.

She could give him back those memories, try and reclaim who he’d been, but she rejected the idea almost in the same instant as she had it. What would be the point? Any time he used his ability, he’d be lost all over again, and she had always told herself she would only give him the memories he needed, not force him to be any of his various fractures again.

His eyes found her, so frightened and scared, overwhelmed by the lack of recognition for anything, and she sighed. She knew she would not run, but she would not bring him back, either. She wasn’t going to let herself get hurt all over again.

She wouldn’t let herself care.

He wasn’t a friend. He was a task. She was there to give him memories, and she did. He wasn’t a friend, could never be one. He might want to, might think he could, but he would always forget, always disappear, and she wouldn’t allow herself to feel that pain again.

She wouldn’t get attached. Not to Fracture. Not ever again.

The agency’s most valuable asset, Fracture can bend his genetics to become whatever he needs to be. The same ability that makes him special erases all of his memories when he uses it. With the ability to store and share other people’s memories, Recall was assigned as his partner, able to restore some of what was lost during the last fracture. She adjusted to the cycle years ago, but this time Fracture seems different, and he might not be willing to let that cycle continue.

Chosen Roles

Author’s Note: I began today by staring at these lyrics and going, “okay, I don’t think fic is going to happen any time soon.”

Then I started thinking about different stories, different possibilities, and also that perhaps I’d be able to show off the updated cover for A Perfect Sunset soon.

Add in these lyrics (and remind me to prompt Liana Mir with them later)

In the hearts of men
In the arms of mothers
In the parts we play to convince others
We know what we’re doing
We’re doing it right

~First Aid Kit, “In the Hearts of Men”

Chosen Roles


The woman turned, and Jis shrank back, dodging the blade and her mother’s attack. She had not thought she had to train today, but she supposed that she knew better. The life of an esbani was always training. They could not allow themselves to make a mistake and fail to protect the royal family. No one had done that, not in centuries, not back to when her people had supposedly flown.

“Jis,” her mother chided, and she grimaced. “That was not a proper evasion, nor should you be here now. You have lessons with the tutors.”

“No, Zaze has lessons. She’s the princess. She’s the one that has to know all those things, not me. I just have to be willing to kill or die for her,” Jis said, shaking her head as she spoke. She did not see why she had to go with Zaze to the lessons, why they kept trying to make her act more and more like her. Zaze was prideful, stubborn, and stupid, and Jis didn’t want to be like her.

“Oh,” her mother said, pulling her into her arms, “my little jisensoji.”

She curled up in her mother’s embrace, aware of all that her mother would not say—that the life of an esbani was not one for a child, that Jis should have freedom to play and be herself, that she should be too young to understand what it meant to be in this role, to know that she would die in the princess’ place if it was necessary.

“Do you think the king loves you?” Jis asked, daring to look up at her mother’s face for the truth. Was that what had distracted her earlier, thoughts of the king? Or was it her own pain of knowing that she was meant to die in the place of the queen?

“I think your father loves you very much.”

That was not what Jis had asked, but she feared it was answer enough. She closed her eyes, trying to console herself with the knowledge that it would never be her. As the king’s daughter, she would never be forced to give herself to a man she didn’t love just because she was esbani.

She was born to take Zaze’s place and die for her, though. Jis would never be free to live her own life or marry anyone. She was esbani. Her life was already forfeit.

The Complications of Language and Breakfast

Author’s Note: I had a hard time getting this second piece of the challenge done. I suppose the simplest way of explaining it is that the other aspects of publishing sapped all my creativity and writing just wouldn’t happen. Not on this, not on anything. I didn’t write a word for over a week.

Today I looked at the lyrics again, and this part sparked something:

Now so much I know that things just don’t grow
If you don’t bless them with your patience
And I’ve been there before I held up the door
For every stranger with a promise

~First Aid Kit, “Emmylou”

And I was able to write more for the upcoming serial.

The Complications of Language and Breakfast

“Here,” Stratford said, holding out the fork to the boy. “Try this.”

Eyes wide, their terrified gaze held on the implement in front of him, the boy shrunk back against the headboard, trying to disappear into the bed. He let out a stream of unintelligible words, protesting as he tried to hide or escape, and Stratford frowned.

“I think he thinks I mean to hurt him when I am only trying to get him to eat,” he said, turning back to Whistler in frustration. “I wish I could make him understand, but even when he speaks more, I get no sense of the words that he uses. His speech is unlike any language I’m familiar with.”

“We do have no sense of his origin. He could be from anywhere,” Whistler reminded him, keeping his tone gentle. He went around to the other side of the bed. Taking the cup from the tray, he held it out to the child, waiting for the boy’s trembling to cease.

After a moment, the boy sat up and peered at the cup. His nose wrinkled, and he shook his head, rejecting the offer. He glanced toward the tray, hesitating before reaching for a small piece of fruit. He studied it with a frown.


“I’m not sure what that means,” Stratford said, taking a piece for himself, “but it is safe to eat.”

The boy watched him eat the bite and then coughed, rolling over in the pillows until his injuries reminded him of their presence. Grimacing, he straightened up and threw the fruit at Stratford.

“I can see he shares your table manners,” Whistler observed dryly, and Stratford glared at him.

The boy picked up a piece of bread and bite into it, chewing it down with an expression Stratford found difficult to decipher. He swallowed it with what seemed like difficulty, but when Whistler renewed his offer of tea, the boy shook his head again.

“He does not seem to like tea.”

“An unforgivable sin, according to your mother.”

Whistler smiled. “Yes, well, I happen to believe it is an acquired taste. Perhaps another flavour would suit him. He does not care for your favourite kind of fruit, either. I also would suggest that may have been the source of his reaction to the fork.”

Frowning, Stratford saw that the boy was actually playing with his fork now, using it to push around the food on the plate. “I take it you don’t want anything else that’s on there?”

The boy pointed his fork at Stratford.

He blinked. “I may just have been threatened.”

“Amusing.” Whistler did not sound amused, but under the circumstances, it almost was comical. The boy had suffered grave injuries and should have died, either from them or the fever that wanted to carry him off, but he would seem to be braver than his wounds. Or perhaps he believed a threat from a fork was a custom everyone here used, which would be Stratford’s fault, though far from his intention.

Stratford grunted. “How are we going to explain what happened? To ask him about his family or how he ended up on that shore? We cannot even communicate about food.”

“Patience,” Whistler advised. “We will learn. After all, we now what mish means, and that is a start, certainly more than you had before.”

Stratford nodded, sighing as he did. He pointed to the fruit again. “Mish?”

The boy’s face crinkled with distaste. “Mish.”

Stratford pointed to the utensil in the boy’s hand. “Fork.”

He had to duck when the boy threw it at him. Shaking his head, he watched the child, uncertain if he did have enough patience to learn the boy’s language or teach him theirs. Maybe it would have been easier if he had found some sign, someone else to give the child to, or even if the boy had died.

Seeking out and Searching for You

Author’s Note: I hereby present the first “track” of my Kabobbles Sing Along Album Challenge.

It took me a bit to decide which album by First Aid Kit I wanted to do, and I may end up doing both. That, and I got sidetracked in part by summarizing the book I’m using characters from today. This is in part a celebration for getting the summary written and in part because the initial hurdle of the challenge has been overcome (I started it, finally.) It should be more upbeat for a celebration piece, but it fit well to do this part, since the lyrics apply in different ways to the main novel.

This is based off this part of the lyrics:

Sometimes I wish I could find my Rosemary Hill
I’d sit there and look at the deserted lakes and I’d sing
And every once in a while I’d sing a song for you
That would rise above the mountains and the stars and the sea
And if I wanted it to it would lead you back to me

~First Aid Kit, “The Lion’s Roar”

Seeking out and Searching for You

Nerissa didn’t visit the overlook often. Maybe because she was afraid it meant she agreed, that she believed what everyone else did, what was sane and normal and right—that Sebastian was dead and buried. Or maybe it was because she thought coming here would mean they would lock her away, thinking her grief had driven her mad. Again.

She let out a breath, closing her eyes and trying to tell herself not to listen. That part of her that had never accepted that her other half was gone was no quieter now than it had been after he first disappeared, though if they were right and he was dead, then it should have been silent by now. Years had passed as proof, hadn’t they?

So why couldn’t she let him go? Why was she here, where they had supposedly found his body, instead of out with the man from her office that wouldn’t stop asking her out?

Nerissa sat down, running her fingers through the grass. She didn’t feel any closer to him here. She still felt as empty and sick as she had when he missed his valedictorian speech.

“If you’re out there, Seb,” she whispered, knowing she’d get herself committed if anyone heard her, “come back to me. Find your way back. I know you can. If I can feel you, you can feel me, and you’ll find me again.”

The breeze didn’t pick up, the glade remained still and quiet, and others would take that as an answer, but she didn’t. She wasn’t looking for a ghost, wasn’t hoping for relief from the other side. She was holding out hope that somewhere Sebastian was very much alive and they would follow that pull they’d always had when separated. They’d end up right back at each other’s side, inseparable as they had always been.

As they always should be.

Comfort for Insomnia

So Liana Mir and I are doing our little ficlet prompting thing we do again.

I’m going to post a few things that spawned from there over the next few days (one a day so not to spam, even though I wrote most of them the same day.

This was out of the prompt for “Malina, insomnia.”

Comfort for Insomnia

“I’m not keeping you awake, am I?”

Malina stilled, her foot still mid-step, wincing as she did. She sighed, shaking her head as she changed direction, veering off her intended path into the kitchen for the one that took her over to where her brother was on the couch. She should have known that even if he wasn’t awake, he’d know she was up and moving the moment she got out of bed. Most of the time she tried not to move around at night, but she’d given up on sleep. Again.

“It’s not you,” she said, sitting down beside him and allowing herself to take on his ability. “Though I might need you to get through work tomorrow.”

He snorted. “You know it doesn’t work that way. You don’t retain the energy the way I do. You can’t use it to keep you awake for days—and you wouldn’t want to.”

“Then why do you do it?” She asked, leaning her head against his arm. “You need your rest, too.”

“Not in the same way. I don’t… I don’t think I’ve ever really functioned like that. I remember being unable to sleep when Enadar needed the nightlight on, and I might have been showing signs of what I am even back then.”

Malina closed her eyes, wishing there was a way to will away pain and guilt, that she could take them from him somehow. “Why are you so stubborn about seeing yourself as evil when I’m not and Enadar isn’t?”

“Why are you awake if not because of me?” Alik countered. “This is the third night in a row where you haven’t gotten any sleep.”

“I have insomnia. You know that has no rhyme or reason.”

Alik gave her a look, and Malina caved. “Fine. I… It… You know it’s been a year now, right? Or almost. I…”

“You’re afraid of reliving the crash in your nightmares again.”

She shuddered, curling herself closer to him and his safety. “Yes.”

He put his arm around her, and she started twisting the fabric of his shirt in her fingers until he caught them and made them stop. “Ice is a fragile thing. Too fragile, sometimes, for any real existence. It can be broken, it melts easily in the sun and becomes as nothing… and yet ice can be hard and stubborn and unyielding—”

“I’m a mirror, not ice.”

“I never said this story was about you.”

Writing Again

Despite the fact that the last two days have really wanted to put me into tears, there remains some… good has come out of them. One of those things was that I got myself writing again.

The whole indecision and insecurity set right in, unfortunately. I’d started out to write the opening scene and ended up with a flashback. I do like the flashback, though. I have a feeling my supporting characters (Stratford & Whistler) might just upstage Dare, who is the main.

Anyway, since I am writing again, here is a teaser from my new historical mystery possibly scifi thing.

The Playtime Habits of Boys

“He’s up there in the trees again, isn’t he?” Stratford Morren said, joining his steward on the balcony. This had become familiar to all of them, a routine that they only pretended to be irritated by these days. The boy he’d taken into his home and later his heart had a smile and a manner that let him escape punishment for nearly every wrong and endeared him to everyone in the house, especially the cook. She loved to spoil him, thinking his every antic was both adorable and worth a reward. Had the boy less energy and enthusiasm for outdoor activities, he would be too large too move from his bed.

As it was, though, his son was almost always to be found in the heights of one of the estate’s many trees or even on the roof. Soon enough he would be old enough to scale the cliff, and that day was one Stratford was not yet ready to see. “I swear that boy should have been born with wings. Though if he was, that would only make things more difficult with Mrs. Frye, who is determined to see him as an angel.”

“Devils have wings as well,” Whistler said, and Stratford frowned. While some of their neighbours still disapproved of Dare’s presence among them, unusual foundling that he was, Whistler had been the one to watch over him in those early days, hardly leaving the child’s side until he had recovered from his fever. Stratford had always assumed that Whistler was as fond of the boy as he was.

“You would condemn the lad that way? I thought it was only that self-righteous hypocrite Lord Underwood that did that.”

Had Whistler’s mother not been a right terror who was prone to whack anyone—noble or servant alike—if she heard them using any kind of foul language, the steward might have had a few choice words for the earl, but even a full decade after that woman’s demise, he still restrained himself as she would have demanded.

“Lord Underwood is an ignorant man who knows nothing of anything beyond his own nose,” Whistler observed instead, folding his arms behind his back. “As for the matter of wings…”


“They would, perhaps, lessen the risk of him injuring himself when he falls,” Whistler said dryly, looking up at the tree with a shudder. In all the years Stratford had known him—they had been raised almost as brothers—he had never cared for any kind of height. Dare was the opposite—that boy seemed to have an aversion to being on the ground.

“He has yet to fall in all the time he’s lived here,” Stratford said. “I find it unlikely that he will do so now. Such a thing would almost be a sin against nature itself.”

Whistler snorted. “Mother would have you for blasphemy.”

“Your mother thought every word out of my mouth was blasphemy,” Stratford reminded him, and Whistler fought against a smile. Amusing as the words were, they were very near truth. He was forever considered a poor influence, one that seemed to overcome Whistler’s natural practicality and good sense.

“I think, perhaps, it is time you get him down from there.”

“I suppose,” Stratford said. He frowned, looking for the slight shift in the leaves that might betray his son’s presence.

“Is there a reason that you do not want him to get out of the tree?”

Stratford considered that. He did not know that he objected to Dare climbing trees, not like others would, nor did he fear that his son would fall and injure himself. Something else about the boy’s behaviour had him troubled, and yet he had not felt it until now. “When was the last time he went down to the lake?”

Whistler frowned, his brow wrinkling in a way that made him seem much older than a man of eight and twenty, a condition that Stratford feared was permanent. “Now that you mention it, I do not think that he has been there in well over a month. At least—I am used to him returning in a state of filthiness that befits his time in the trees and not the cleansing he used to get at the lake.”

“These are the warmest days of the summer,” Stratford said, shaking his head. “What boy with unrestricted access to water would not be there to spite this damned heat?”

“You say that because you were always there yourself in the summer, but you know he is not like you. His interests lie elsewhere.”

Stratford grimaced. “I do not think he will ever understand the complexities of why he cannot be the same friend he was before with Cadence. I swear he doesn’t realize she’s female half the time and he doesn’t see why she has a governess and lessons on ladylike behaviour when he is still free.”

“He is rather spoiled—and yet rather unspoiled.”

“Yet that is not enough to explain his sudden avoidance of the lake. He enjoyed being there before, so why won’t he go there now, when the heat’s at its worst?”

Whistler sighed. “Must everything make you suspicious?”

“It is my duty. I am responsible for the law around here.”

Whistler snorted. “Try telling that to Lord Underwood.”

Fire Dancers

Author’s Note: So I didn’t want to continue this idea. I figured it was… bad. Yet for some reason I felt compelled to do the other part of it, since Cress and Occie aren’t the only fourth generations in the Fire and Water universe. In fact… I found an interesting connection when I went looking, and I liked it, so… I wrote a bit for it.

I went with the fire side of things, looking not just at Enya’s possible ancestry but also someone else’s. 🙂

Fire Dancers

“You pretty dancer.”

“Thank you. From you I consider that the highest complement.” Eshne Royston laughed, turning around to smile down at her nephew, glad she was not in her whole costume yet. The mask scared him, and she did not like wearing it herself, but she found it was a bit of protection that they both needed. If only Aedus hadn’t died, then none of this would be necessary, but she knew better than to think too much about what would be different if her brother was alive. The past was done. The present was now, and they all had to survive it however they could.

“Dance?” Egann asked, holding his little hands up to her, and she took them, moving in a small circle that would not make the little one dizzy. He laughed, his smile so bright and so like his father’s… Eshne bit back a sigh. She knew she would always remember her brother when she looked at his son, but she would like for it to stop hurting every time she did.

If only their village hadn’t decided she was a witch—No. She was dancing. She was happy. All of that was forgotten. That was how it must be, how it should be.

“Eshne, lass, yer on in five minutes.”

“Phemie,” Egann said, letting go of Eshne’s hands and running toward the door. He stood on his toes and tried to reach the handle, but he was still too small for that, thank goodness. One of these days, she’d lose him, always afraid he would run off during one of her performances and she’d lose the only family that she had left.

She crossed over to the door, scooping him up before she opened the door to the other woman. “Are you able to watch him while I’m gone? I hate asking, but he’s still too young to be alone and I don’t have anyone—”

“It’s no trouble,” Phemie said, taking Egann into her own large arms. The strong woman had no trouble carrying about the three year old, and she never seemed to tire of it, whereas Eshne knew that she would want nothing more than sleep after she was done with her routine. “I miss the days mine were as young as this wee one.”

“He grows more and more like his father every day,” Eshne said, shaking her head. “Aedus would be so proud of him…”

“No tears now, lass. Ye’ve got to finish getting dressed, and ye cannot be spoiling your makeup with no tears,” Phemie admonished, pointing a thick finger at her. “I’ve got this one, now ye get yerself out there and make them stare in wonder.”

Eshne laughed, forcing herself back to the table and to the mask. As long as Egann couldn’t see it, she could wear it. She pulled it down off the back of her mirror and placed it on her face, adjusting it to where she could see. She looked at herself and shook her head. She’d been ready to be a nun, and now look at her. She did not know of much more wanton or disgraceful outfit, even as much as she tried to give herself some modesty.

The people saw only the fire anyway. She knew that. She was only a shadow in the flames, and even if her neckline was low and her skirt had a scandalous number of slits in it so that she could move without burning herself—not that she ever did, ever could.

She was the fire.

No one knew that, not even Phemie, and Eshne would not tell her, not after what happened to Aedus and his wife. This was a secret she knew must die with her, but not before Egann had grown, not until she’d seen to his safety. He was innocent, and he need not suffer because his aunt had some strange—she would not call it a curse for she did not believe that was what it was, but she did not understand how she could command fire, either.

She was not a witch. She’d never opened a spell book, never thought to ask anyone for any kind of spell, and though she knew her ancestors participated in pagan rites, she never had.

Still, when she wanted it, fire was hers.

She opened her palm, seeing the flame there, and closed it again, shaking her head and knowing that she would never allow anyone else to be harmed because of what she was. Egann would always be safe. She’d make certain of that, even if it took being whatever monster she was to do it.

Hugh Astin liked fire.

He liked it more than he should. That was the trouble, same trouble as always. He knew that he shouldn’t like fire as much as he did, shouldn’t enjoy seeing things burn or the way the flames danced, and he knew that no one would see his affection for the blaze as natural. Or harmless.

He didn’t know how many times liking fire had gotten him too close to something burning, close enough to be blamed for it, and sometimes he thought it should be his fault, he loved the sight of the blaze so much, but he’d never so much as lit a match, not once in his life.

He wasn’t sure he needed to—sometimes fire seemed to come just because he wanted it or needed it. He didn’t even need a bit of flint to start one in the wild.

Then again, he didn’t know that he was sane, either. He knew most people would say he wasn’t, given his love for fire, and he had his own doubts about it at times.

He looked again at the poster for the carnival. This was a tame way of indulging his love for fire, especially since the weather was too warm—other than a few strange bouts of heavy rain—for a fire in his room even at night. He did that, and people assumed he was either sick or some kind of freak. He supposed he was a bit of both.

A freak show was a fitting place for him, then, almost where he belonged. He purchased a ticket and went inside the circle, looking around at the tents. He figured the main arena was the best place for him, a nice seat where he could watch people do stunts with fire—he hadn’t seen a fire-eater on the playbill, but he didn’t find that as interesting as he did the flaming hoops people would sometimes jump through. He didn’t notice the people so much as the flames, though.

He sighed. Something was wrong with him. This obsession with fire had to be unnatural.

“Come on, laddies! Not a one of ye wants to miss the amazing talents of Bedelia, the ancient goddess of fire! See her invoke her most sensual of rites as she bedevils all ye!” The crier called out to the crowd, and Hugh stopped. How was he supposed to resist a goddess of fire?

Oh, he didn’t believe she was any true thing, of course, but if her act involved fire, he would enjoy it even if the rest of it was stupid or talentless. He paid for his entry into the smaller tent, taking a seat in front of the stage, wanting to be close to the fire.

Something pulled on him, some force he couldn’t see, and he frowned, but then his eyes caught the shadow—she wasn’t behind the curtain as they would have expected. He could not see much of her, just a faint outline of her form, but he felt her, aware of every movement before she made it.

The stage burst into flames, and she leapt forward into them, rolling to a stop, the flames flaring up as she turned to face her audience. Some of the others exclaimed in surprise, but Hugh just frowned. He knew that some effects could be achieved by rigging elements a certain way, and he didn’t know all the details of that, no, because he didn’t trust himself with that kind of knowledge, but he remained aware of what she was doing more so than the others, he thought, because it was easy to lose her in the shadows as she wove in and out of the flames, dancing with them as she might a lover.

He would have sworn that the fire was bending to her will.

A part of him was tempted to—no, that could hurt her, and he was only fooling himself if he thought that he could do it, but he wanted to see the flames go against her, just once. Not to hurt her, he didn’t want her harmed, but he wanted to know if she could truly do it. They called her a goddess, but he knew eighty percent of the carnival was fake and the other twenty percent was tragedy. She should be a fake.

He kept thinking she wasn’t, though.

Impossible. He didn’t believe she was a goddess. She wasn’t a witch, either. He didn’t believe in either thing, and so he would just prove it. She couldn’t control fire.

He didn’t know how he’d prove it without matches, though. He didn’t allow himself to carry any, and a flint wouldn’t work. Still, if just that little patch there was stronger, taller—he sat back, telling himself he’d imagined it changing, but then she hissed out a curse and her dress caught fire.

She spun around like it was a part of the dance, extinguishing it at the end of her twirl, but he swore he felt her eyes glaring out into the darkness, searching for him as though she knew what he’d done—only he couldn’t have done it.

No matter how much he liked fire, he knew he couldn’t control it. That was impossible.