A/N: First and foremost, my thanks to everyone who read Fate's Winds and Fate and Fire. You are all most wonderful people, and I doubt I'd have gotten further than the fifth chapter of Fate's Winds without you. Your questions, comments, jokes and random-seeming insanity have all inspired and encouraged. So, as always, this is for you.
The plot, as of now, is still a bit vague, but I'm sure I'll be able to do it. But school might make updates a bit sporadic, so I'm counting on your patience.
Finally, enjoy. And remember – REVIEW!
Lara shoved the half-empty jars of ketchup and mustard aside, searching for additions to breakfast. Breakfast was, of course, a relative term – ten thirty in the morning was usually brunch, and ice cream, waffles and fruit were rarely treated as anything but a dessert in her household. Still, her parents were away for the week and her brother was in charge, and considering the high-sugar content of some of the things he ate, waffles and ice cream should be no problem.
It helped, of course, that he was still asleep.
She finally produced a mostly full can of whipped cream and added it to the mass of items that covered the table, smiling at her friend. Technically, Jenna shouldn't have been over without her parents in the house, but her brother was considered to be a 'mature adult presence', which made it OK. And he was a remarkably calm teenager, even if he was a bit weird. Weird, but not as much of a bother as some of her friend's sibs.
"So your brother disappears into his room the second he gets home, reappears only long enough to buy a pizza and steal half of it, and then sleeps until ten. My older sister's like that."
Lara shook her head and began scooping out rocky road ice cream. "This is him being normal. Maybe I should have you over more often."
Jenna grinned, brown eyes flashing. Brown haired and around the same height as Lara, the two fourteen-year-olds got along very well. "No problems here. Breakfast is much better at your house." She grabbed a waffle and smothered it in whipped cream, added a few strawberries and leaned towards Lara with a conspiratorial grin. "If this is him being normal, then what's he usually like?"
She looked at the stairway as though to make sure her brother wouldn't appear, and then shrugged it off. If he wasn't awake at six, he would be asleep until some point after noon. He was strange like that. "You remember the time I had Meg over for a sleepover? Well, we were talking about stuff… You know, music, boys, that sort of stuff. Then he shows up, in my room, through the window from that tree, covered in leaves and dirt, and just looks at her as though she was the one who was covering the house in dirt. And why did he have to come in through my window? Because someone had closed his."
"Wasn't the door unlocked?"
"It was. My parents were home, after all." She shook her head. "And he gardens. And talks to trees. And for someone who's always in his room, he gets an amazing amount of mail and visitors. Ten thirty and no one's come for him yet? A miracle."
"Talks to trees?"
"Grows them, too. In his room. You should see some of the things he comes home with in the spring and summer. Leaves, branches, flowers, whole plants. He plants them wherever, and the parents never say anything about it."
Jenna frowned. "Um… Is he… er, well… y'know?"
"I've asked. Not just him, but all of the people who show up asking for him or with stuff for him. They just laughed at me. They bring the weirdest things, too. And more mail than the postman does."
"Nope. Definitely not that. I joked about smoking one time and he nearly killed me. He won't even take a pill for a headache, just waits it out. But he doesn't get sick very much. Last year, in May, he was sick for about a week, but he didn't get sick enough to take it up with a doctor or anything."
He friend shrugged. "Well, not getting sick easily is a good quality for someone who wants to be a doctor, wouldn't you say?"
"Probably. Anyways, he paints a lot. I think he does, anyways. Maybe he gets them from his friends." She reached for the stack of waffles when the doorbell rang. "And that," she muttered, "is for him." She stood, grabbing a waffle as she did so, and walked down the hallway to the front door. She flung the bolt and opened the door to reveal a short, pale blonde woman with large blue eyes.
"Is Kit in?" she asked politely.
She was stunned for a moment – for all that it was evident the blonde was several years her elder, she was at least three inches shorter. "Yes. Are you another one of his friends?"
One pale eyebrow rose. "I'm a friend of his, yes. Can I talk to him, or is he busy?"
Lara shrugged and looked up the staircase, though her brother's room wasn't visible. "Kit! Someone's at the door for you!"
There were mutters from upstairs, and then, "Tell them I said I wasn't going to be doing anything this weekend, and I told everyone that on Friday. Unless it's some sort of an emergency." More mutters. "I need to catch up on sleep."
She blinked – what did her brother's friends do that they'd be having 'emergencies' that they needed him to deal with a few days after school had ended. The blonde woman seemed somewhat less startled, instead stepping into the house, placing her hands on her hips, and shouting, "Kit! If you're thinking that I came all the way from British Columbia to be told that you're sleeping, you've got to be kidding me!"
There was a stunned silence. "Aria?" Green eyes, half covered by messy hair, peered down the staircase and a wide grin split his face. "What on earth are you doing here?" He appeared at the head of the stairs, pulling on a shirt, and then raced down to pull the short woman into a tight hug. Laughing, she hugged him just as fiercely.
"I just told you, I came to visit."
He stuffed his feet into his shoes and gave Lara a Look. "Be good, or you won't be having any friends over for the rest of the summer," that look said quite plainly. "I'll be gone for a couple of hours," he added aloud, seconds before the door closed behind the pair.
"That was fast," Jenna noted from her position at the kitchen door.
"I know. He only ever moves that fast when there's food or mail involved. And he never seems that happy to see someone." She took a thoughtful bite of waffle. "Here," she said after a moment. "I'll show you his room."
Jenna nodded mutely and followed her up the carpeted stairs, past Lara's room and to the door at the end of the hall. It was shut, as usual, but never locked – her parents didn't like the idea of their children hurting themselves and then being trapped in their room. So she simply pushed the door open and stepped back to give her friend the full view of her strange older brother's bedroom. Still, there had been changes made since the last time she had gotten more than a glimpse inside his room, and she was equally, if not more, curious.
They stared at the plants that covered almost every surface, some in flower, some long vines, some thick and green, others pale blues or browns. Books were piled in precarious stacks, covering everything from mythology to early medicine, from encyclopedias on plants to fiction. Wood was stacked in one corner of the room, and half-finished carvings sat on the desk and bed, while their completed companions were either on the floor, on top of the books or on the few places not occupied by plants. Paintings were both on the wall and hung on the wall, reminding Lara of the day that a dozen teens had appeared for part of the morning. Evidently that had been their project. The walls were covered in scenes of – what else? – forests and fields, although near the bed was what might have been a campfire and tents. Hung on the wall were an assortment of pictures of men and women.
Jenna stared. "He painted those?"
"I thought he had. I mean, he was always writing something down, and I'd never seen these people before. But he never seemed to have paint, and…" She pointed at one of the four over the bed. "She's the one who wanted to talk to Kit."
They stared for a moment longer, then, by unspoken agreement, retreated to the kitchen to fortify themselves with ice cream and waffles.
Finally, after a third whipped cream and chocolate covered waffle, Jenna agreed, "Your brother is strange."
Kit walked in quiet contentment, his arm draped over Aria's shoulders as he listened to her chatter about Cal'asan Home and the Tanith region of her Chain. If Natalie saw him like this, she'd tease him for at least a month, but the gut-deep reassurance that he hadn't been abandoned was more than worth it, and she never managed to tease him for more than a week in any case. After all, he was Kit, enshira extraordinaire, and a wonderful source of chocolate without questions asked and hugs without obligation. As though sensing where his thoughts had drifted, the short blonde punched his arm lightly.
"So, Natalie told me you weren't talking to the Chain this weekend. Are you tired of us already?"
He managed to stifle a grin. "I'm thinking of retiring, you know. Of course not. I've just been used as the general post-it board, and my house gets more gossips visiting than the school washroom. I figured now that the school year was over, I could take a weekend off now and again to get some sleep, smell the flowers, climb trees, relax. And in any case, for you guys, I'm never on vacation."
Quite literally. Even on the few weekends in the school year when he had declared he was not to be bothered, emergencies – by Gossip Chain standards, at least for the most part, though there had been a severe burn – usually ensured that he didn't get any more alone time than he would have had the Chain lived in his house.
"I'm touched." She looked up at him and frowned. "Are you all determined to get taller than me?"
"I was taller than you when I met you," Kit pointed out cheerfully. "Sarah was when I met her, and so were Stormwing and Shadow. Shadow doesn't seem to mind, though, so why are you worried?"
For the most part, as Kit had learned as an honorary member of the Gossip Chain by virtue of the fact that he was the Earth's'guardian – and thereby a friend of Aria, who had once been a Gossip Queen, amongst other things – and one of the two males in the Kierstha region of the Chain, the easiest way to get a girl off of his back was to mention her boyfriend, unless, of course, they were fighting, in which case he reverted to offerings of chocolate. But rather than beaming delightedly at the mention of her beloved, Aria twisted her hands together nervously.
"There's something you have to know about Shadow and I," she said, biting her lip.
"What?" She didn't seem angry, so they couldn't have had a fight. Or maybe they did, and then Shadow's Fire's'guardian sister Sarah decided to take Aria's side in it, and now they needed someone to make sure Shadow lived. Of course, that would have counted as an emergency, so unless she was furious, she wouldn't have waited so long to mention it.
"We're getting married."
"You got me worried that Sarah's nearly killed Shadow in a fight and all you've done is decided to get married?"
The startled look faded from her eyes and she grinned at him. "That's the best reaction I've gotten since I started announcing it, you know? Most of the Chain went into raptures about the idea of a wedding, Sarah wasn't very impressed and Stormwing didn't even blink."
The smile widened as a dreamy look came into her blue eyes. "He spends a lot of time walking into walls now." She shrugged. "Sorry about scaring you. But you're a Guardian, and I needed to know that all of you approved."
He nodded, understanding. "I've missed you all."
"We miss you too."
"Not as much," he pointed out a bit bitterly. "You have each other. Stormwing told me she managed to set up a semi-permanent World Gate in Cal'asan Home so that Sarah can visit whenever she likes, and you and Shadow live in Cal'asan. But I'm stuck out here, in Ontario, and I only see you once a year or so." He stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets. "I don't know what I'd do without the Chain. They're my link to the four of you. I don't want to see you once a year, Aria. I want to be with the rest of you like I should. I love my family, but you're my iawyth. We're Guardians. We need each other." He paused, not certain if he should continue. But he was so desperately lonely, even surrounded by the constant chatter and affection of the gossips. He wanted to be near the blonde Air's'guardian and her beloved, the Shadow, wanted to be near Shadow's Fire's'guardian sister Sarah, wanted to be near the almost seven hundred-year-old Water's'guardian Stormwing. But he couldn't.
"I do," she told him softly. And she did. She was Aria Davidson, ruler of the Gossip Chain for all that she was no longer in high school, former Queen of the Tanith region, Air's'guardian, vas'tray to Sarah Cal'asan, oath-sib to Stormwing and the Aelfen Empress's daughter Shana, a former Queen herself, but she was also human. She no longer spoke to her family, hadn't since the year she had met Kit and had moved into Cal'asan home to be near Shadow and away from her family.
"I know. Still, when the week is over, I'll be catching the first flight to British Columbia." He smiled. "I've been accepted to a university in BC on a partial scholarship, so I'll be staying in Cal'asan when I'm not working. All without the help of the Chain, too."
"Why would you need the Chain? You've got the best understanding of the human body since the last Earth's'guardian."
He had to admit that he did.
"Good. Now, m'boy, do you know where Natalie lives?"
It was only a short walk to the Queen of the Kierstha region of the Gossip Chain's house, perhaps ten minutes at the most. The girls would be in the back, enjoying the sun, so he turned his head up slightly to enjoy the sunlight on his face, closing his green eyes. There, in the corner of his mind, a slightly whisper of wind in trees, were the three pines that stood on the corner of Natalie's street. A little further up, and the young maples – twenty five and twenty – that had been planted on her neighbour's lawn. In front of her own was a rather small mulberry tree, though it was more than made up for in the Earth's'guardian's mind by the fact that she had one of the most extensive gardens he'd ever seen in a lot that size.
He could feel Aria shifting next to him, knew that she was grinning even with his eyes closed. "Come here often, do you?"
With a quiet laugh, he added, "Enough to walk there with my eyes closed." Ah, up ahead, a rock someone had thrown. He stepped over it, puzzling over its peculiar voice before realizing that it was flint, something that he had only seen twice. Wonder what something that good's doing on the ground.
He opened his eyes when the came to the mulberry tree, hoping – unnecessarily – that the red car would be absent from the driveway. The female voices drifting in from the back of the house confirmed his earlier guess, and he sauntered down the walkway at the side, unhinging the lock on the fence almost absently. He still couldn't see the gossips, and because the fence was so cooperatively quiet, they didn't know he was there. So until he came around the corner, he was treated to all the latest gossip, most of it centering around one teen who'd cheated on his English exam.
Kit blinked, a bit surprised at the hopefully obvious statement, and then remembered that Natalie had decided to bring some of the prospective new gossips to meet the rest of the Chain. And that was probably why she wanted me here. Ah, well. She owes me.
"Good eyes," he announced approvingly. "I am male. Keep that one, Nat."
Dirty-blonde Natalie stuck her tongue out. "This is Kit, one of our two boys – yes, Kim, we do have boys now and again – and a demi-god when you've got an ache." She waggled her fingers and grinned. "He heals." There wasn't even the slightest hint of red on her face or neck, although that hadn't been the case when he'd just arrived at Longview Secondary. Then her neck and face had been brilliant red as she asked in a barely audible undertone if he could take care of a problem of a friend of hers, because her stomach really hurt, and she was allergic to most painkillers. It had taken him a few seconds to realize just what Nat meant, a few minutes to wait for his own blush to fade, and half a minute to take care of the problem. He hadn't known then that getting rid of one set of stomach pains would make him so popular within the Chain, although he didn't have any repeat customers. He was a good Healer, dammit!
Still. Even now it made the back of his neck prickle with a touch of embarrassment. Healing in ordinary cases was no problem, but specifically female problems were an entirely different matter. The itch faded when he thought instead of all the times that gossips had used his advice as "doctor's orders", or all the times he had been dragged out of class by a gossip with a headache a twisted muscle, or the time in grade ten when Nat's Recorder Rachel had gotten into a fistfight, only getting away because Nat had pulled her out to hide in the gym storeroom and then forged a note to get Kit out of class. The principal had concluded that there was no way that Rachel could have been in such a violent fight without having at least one visible bruise, so she had been allowed out.
It had only been later that he learned that the fight had been in his defense. Evidently having far more female friends than male led to certain questions about him, leading to the conclusion that he was either a player – doubtful – or shared certain preferences with his female friends. He still hadn't understood why it would bother Rachel so much until later that year when, dead serious, she'd asked him to go to the dance with her.
"I brought you a visitor," he added, realizing that Aria had yet to step into the backyard.
All of the gossips sat up straight when Aria slipped into the sunlight, her pale blonde hair catching the light and making her blue eyes seeming slightly surreal. But the warm grin on her face was more than enough to inspire the traditional gossip shout of, "Encair!"
Kit smiled to himself. Gossips were such wonderful people.
But he'd give up a year with them for a day with the Guardians in a heartbeat.