Chapter Twenty Two

Trina couldn't believe her ears. Brock's house was burning down. She knew she shouldn't exactly be happy about it, but there was a weird smile playing on the corners of her mouth. All the evidence that she had stabbed Vincent was gone. Every drop of blood, every smudge of D.N.A., every mistaken fingerprint, anything that might incriminate her was gone. Trina's relief was so palpable she could have made orange juice, but Nicoletta didn't seem to notice. She ran back to the house and let Trina stew in her juices.

She leaned on the fence post and thought it through. Vincent must have called the Ravens to come pick him up after all. Maybe he had a reason why he didn't want the authorities to come get him. The police might have been looking for him. But they didn't have to burn down the house for Vincent's sake. Brock had made ashes out of so many of their buildings. They could have done it for revenge.

Well, whatever the reason, the evidence that she had stabbed Vincent was one hundred percent gone. As long as someone sewed him up, she didn't have to worry. She had the weapon and Vincent, it seemed, had been ordered not to confess to the police. When Trina wondered why, her head felt like it was going to explode. It didn't matter. All that mattered was she was off the hook – free and clear.

Trina found herself trembling with cold as she caught up with everything that had happened. What was life going to be like now that she knew that she was an Element User? She thought for a second about super heroes. Trina rolled her eyes. She wasn't a super hero, no matter what she could summon with her hands. Lindsay hadn't been one either. Not to mention that a secret identity would be a waste of time considering that her enemies already knew who she was.

An alias? Brock was The Dragon and it sounded like the Element User who belonged to Red Morning, Harker, was The Raven. What was she? The Moon? That sounded lame. You couldn't approach an enemy and make them cower by saying, 'I am The Moon'. So, she couldn't be cool and this ability had been the thing that chased her out of her parents' home.

What about Brock? He said that he was in love with the girl who had the moon as her symbol. That was her. Everything he said made sense now.

Finally, Nicoletta invited Trina back into the house.

"How's Brock?" she asked when she came in.

"He'll be fine, but it'll be awhile before he's walking again. The doctor is recommending a wheelchair for the time being and crutches later on," Freda said, coming into the great room and looking at Trina and Nicoletta.

"Is he awake?"

"Not yet."

"Can I go sit beside him?" Trina asked.

"It would probably better if you didn't. He's asleep, and that boy really needs his rest. It won't do him any good if you go cry over him like he is a corpse."

"I wasn't going to do that!" Trina muttered indignantly.

The woman rolled her eyes and looked at Nicoletta. Then changing the subject she said, "I don't know if I can bear to look at you any longer. I'm not much of a hairdresser, but how about letting me even it out? You look like a stray cat."

"Go ahead and cut it off, and I'll tell you what happened," Nicoletta replied.

"I'll go get my scissors then," Freda said as she left the room.

Trina felt slightly piqued. Nicoletta definitely needed a haircut, but she felt slightly bruised that she wasn't offered a change or clothing or a shower or something. She was crusted over with blood and she was freezing because she'd been standing outside without a coat on. Trina wasn't sure, but she felt like this woman disliked her on sight, but why?

Nicoletta made her way over to the kitchen sink and stuck her head under the facet.

"I'm really sorry about your hair," Trina said quietly, thinking about how selfish she was being. "It was so beautiful."

"And it'll be beautiful again. I knew they were just trying to scare me and it'll grow back, but man alive!" She turned on the tap.

Freda came back into the kitchen with a basket of hair styling supplies and a towel. "Good girl. Let's get started."

Nicoletta sat down on a dining room chair and Freda wrapped the towel around her shoulders. "What happened?"

Trina's ears perked up. She wanted to hear Nicoletta's version of the story as well.

"Well, yesterday Jeremy went to Pitchstone Place to pick Rob up from work. Did you hear that he managed to get a job?"

"I hadn't heard, but isn't Rob a little too good for minimum wage?" Freda said not taking little snips of Nicoletta's hair but whacking of the longer strands like she was pruning a bush.

"Not anymore he's not. It's really a shame what happened. I thought he was never going to get a job in this town again after that mess, but it turned out to be too good to be true. They knew he was one of us. They were just waiting for the right moment to use him against us."

Then Nicoletta proceeded to relate the story of Jeremy's head injury and then her involvement in everything that happened afterwards. "So, Gwen phoned me from Brock's and told me that she was stuck taking care of Jeremy, and that Brock had just left with Trina."

Trina nodded that this was the case, and Freda raised one grey eyebrow at her.

"Well, you know Gwen's about as nurturing as a cat, so I decided to take over for her," Nicoletta said.

Trina half expected Freda to smile at the idea of Nicoletta taking care of Jeremy, but her mouth didn't even twitch.

"When I got there, Jeremy seemed perfectly coherent so it seemed ridiculous to keep him over at Brock's. The only sensible thing was to take him home where he could rest in his own bed. Vincent offered to take him, and I went with them because I wanted to make sure Jeremy was comfortable," Nicoletta explained.

"You're really a nice girl," Freda said, going a little easier on the shearing.

"That's when it happened," Nicoletta said, clenching her fists angrily and obviously having a hard time keeping her head still as her hair was still being cut. "That … that … bastard!" she exclaimed, whacking the cupboard beside her with a clenched fist.

"You don't use that kind of language to describe Jeremy, do you? He's not that worthless," Freda reproved.

"No. It was Vincent. He was really a Raven all along. He didn't take us to Jeremy's house, but instead drove us directly to Pitchstone Place. I was sitting in the back seat and I didn't even realize where he was driving. When we got there, there were six Ravens holding guns to our heads before we even recognized the situation!" she exclaimed, hitting the cupboard again.

"Vincent told Brock and me this afternoon that the Ravens had kidnapped several of our people and Brock was supposed to trade himself for them," Trina said, starting in on her own story.

"And so you two went to go get everyone?"

"No, neither Brock, nor I realized what Vincent was or what he had done. Brock left me there with Vincent and went to go make the trade. He said he'd come back."

Nicoletta gaped. "You mean he left you there with him?"

"He didn't realize Vincent was a Raven. He thought I'd be safe there."

Freda had stopped cutting and she and Nicoletta stared at Trina in horror.

Trina swallowed a lump in her throat. "After Brock had gone, Vincent followed me into my room with a knife, and I fought him."

"And …?" they both asked, staring at Trina with eyes as big as serving platters.

Trina fumbled. Tears were springing to her eyes. She couldn't hide them. Swallowed, she girded her loins and confessed, "I got the knife away from him, beat him off … and stole his car."

"Is that his blood on your clothes?" Freda asked soberly.

Trina refused to answer. She was so overwhelmed that she got up from the chair and made for the door, but Nicoletta grabbed her arm.

"I know you're scared Trina, but we have to hear what happened." Nicoletta continued, grasping her elbow and stopping her from escaping to the outdoors. "You don't have to be afraid. We're your friends."

Trina sealed her lips and thought of what a good friend Nicoletta had been to her. She wanted to tell her, but she couldn't. Trina went slack and said seriously, "I want to talk to Brock."

"You don't trust me then?" Nicoletta demanded.

"Don't think of it that way," Trina said. "A lot of things have happened and it's late. I'm tired and in shock. I feel like I'm under duress and I need a friggin' break, okay? We're still friends, but I need a chance to chill or I'm gonna come un-friggin'-glued. The only thing that is going to help me is hearing what Brock has to say about all this."

"Wait. Are you worried we're going to turn you in to the police after you cut Vincent, because we believe in obeying the law?" Nicoletta asked.

"You guys don't believe in obeying the law. That's such heinous hypocrisy; I can't even believe you said that out loud. You guys are only good enough to avoid the notice of the police, and sometimes not even that. So, don't say crap like that to me. You just don't believe in killing people and I didn't kill Vincent. I even called the ambulance to come pick him up."

"You called the ambulance?" Nicoletta asked, looking incredible.

"But, it is obvious Vincent called the Ravens to come pick him up after I left and they set fire to Brock's house on their way out. Who could blame them? I can think of quite a few strong reasons why they'd do something like that. Can't you? And if Brock doesn't have fire insurance, I'm going to strangle him."

"Then why won't you talk about this with us?" Aunt Freda persisted.

"I already said everything, okay?" Trina lied. "I'm just bummed we couldn't get everyone back, okay? Especially Megan."

If Nicoletta' eyes had been wide before, now they about to burst from her head. "You saw her?" Nicoletta screamed, grabbing both Trina's arms in a death grip.

"Yes."

"She was there? Jeremy has put his whole life on the line to rescue her. Hell, I'll go get her back myself!" Nicoletta said, letting go of Trina and turning around.

"Stop!" Trina shouted, grabbing Nicoletta. "Don't run off half-cocked. What sort of mess do you think is happening at Pitchstone Place now that the police and the fire department are there? Megan told me they evacuated the thugs and I saw Redd leave with her. Do you have any idea where he might have taken her?"

The other girl looked grieved.

"I'm sorry. I had to let her go so I could save you and Carter." Before Trina had stopped speaking, the necklace lying against her chest began to radiate coldness, and Trina thought twice about what she had just admitted.

"You did WHAT?" Nicoletta wound up and slapped Trina across the face.

Trina shrieked in pain. Cradling her cheek, she turned infuriated eyes on Nicoletta, who was red with rage.

Trina was about to snap when there was a deep groan from the back of the house. "Trina!" It was Brock.

Trina took a purifying breath and then stepped past Nicoletta, until they could no longer see each other's faces. "You can be as pissed as you want, but don't speak for Carter. I couldn't abandon two people for one."

With that Trina walked out of the room with what dignity she could muster. Hot tears fell down her face as she found the room Brock was resting in. She couldn't believe that Nicoletta had hit her, but Brock had called for her. Once she told him what happened, she knew that he would smooth things over.

Trina dried her tears with her bare hand before she went into the bedroom. It was ridiculous that she was crying. The last thing she wanted to do was to let Brock see her crying. When she went into the room before her face was dry.

Inside, Brock lay in a wide bed, only taking up one side. There was a lamp on the bedside table shining white light on the ceiling and on his face. He was deathly pale. Even the flesh on his neck was chalk-white. His Adam's apple rolled up and down his throat as he took his breath in enormous heaves. His near-black hair fell against the white linen pillow case in wet strands as he turned his head towards her. His eyes were open, but they were glazed, almost as if he didn't see her.

She crawled up on the bed and propped her chin up on her elbow so they could talk.

"You have a red mark on your face," he said dreamily. Trina smiled wanly; he had to be talking about Nicoletta's handprint. "Could you open a window for me, Trina? It's summer. The windows should be open."

"Don't make me open the window. It's freezing outside," she complained. However, she relented when she saw his expression and opened one a crack. The window was directly over the headboard, so she just lowered herself back onto the bedspread when she was finished. "Better?" she asked.

"Is that my blood on your clothes?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said, tugging at her top.

"You should take them off," he suggested.

For a moment, Trina didn't know what to say or do. What did he just say?

"I bet my aunt has something you could wear," he supplied.

Trina wasn't sure if he had paused because he needed to catch his breath, or because he was watching for her reaction.

"It's okay. It's dried," she said easily. "Are you in a lot of pain?"

"No. The doctor gave me something pretty good."

Trina cleared her throat. "I need to tell you a few things and they can't wait until the pain killers wear off. You see, I …"

"I know."

"You don't know," she contradicted, her eyes full of unshed tears. "Vincent attacked me. That was why I followed you to the stadium. He tried to stab me and so I fought him."

"Did your ice come out?" he asked calmly. "Is that why you were brave enough to follow me?"

"No. I, um, I got the knife away from him and I ended up stabbing him in the shoulder. It was an accident – sort of. I don't think the police are going to come after me for this, but the Ravens might – for revenge."

"I'll protect you," Brock swore gravely. "I won't let them touch you."

"There's something else that I need to tell you about the Ravens, but I'm scared," Trina admitted, gripping the back of her neck to try to relieve some of her stress.

"It's okay. Whatever it is, I can handle it. I'm pretty used to their tricks."

"Redd made me promise that you would go to a night club called The Voltage Room in six weeks in exchange for the key to the room Carter and Nicoletta were in. He made it sound like you would be able to pick up Jeremy and the others." She couldn't meet his eyes and instead stared miserably at a knot on his quilt.

"Ah, Trina. Don't fall apart," he said gently. "This is normal. I expected something like this to happen. As long as they have some leverage with me, they'll use it. That's just how it is."

Trina should have felt relieved after hearing his easy-going response, but instead she felt worse. "Would you have promised the same thing if you were in my shoes?"

"It doesn't matter what I would have done. You took the only option that was open to you, so don't worry about it. The only thing I'm sorry about was that we weren't able to save Megan. I've been hearing about her from Jeremy for years and tonight was the first time I ever saw her. Redd must keep her locked up. It's a little strange that they're a couple though. I thought she'd be with someone with a little more influence than Redd." He paused. "Trina?"

"Yes."

"I need you to do something for me," he said weakly. The effort from his talking earlier must have worn him out. "Actually, there are two things I need you to do."

"What?"

"I need you to announce that I plan to dissolve the Foxes. I have the authority to do it if Jeremy is unavailable. Carter should be able to help you contact everyone and let them know we are going to be completely off-line for the next six weeks, until Jeremy gets back. Tell them there will be absolutely no communication or team organization until then. They need to be model citizens until Jeremy can take the reins and decide the direction they're going to take. Besides," he said, touching his brow with the back of his hand. "I have no interest in leading them. I have my own motives, and I have a strange suspicion that I won't be much of a member of the Foxes after this."

"Why?" Trina asked, unbelievably curious.

"I know a lot of people will be disappointed about this decision," he said, not answering her question. "But, you and I have a lot of work to do. I need to teach you how to control your elements. We need to get back to my place in the city-"

"Actually, we can't do that," Trina interrupted. "I guess you didn't hear that your house is burning down right now. Carter saw it on the news."

"Really? Huh … Glad I wasn't there."

"Do you think Vincent is okay?"

"I'm sure he is. A shoulder injury isn't a serious one. They probably have a doctor, just like we do. Now let's talk about the other thing I want you to do."

"Maybe we should wait until you're not so doped up before we let you make any major decisions," Trina suggested.

"No," he said. "I'm positive this is the right course."

"Okay, what is the other thing you wanted me to do?"

He looked wistful. "Don't you know?"

Trina returned his gaze thoughtfully. Was he talking about their discussion from before and their vacation? Was he still planning on going through with that? "You need to heal before we can go anywhere," she said carefully.

"I wasn't thinking about that. I was wondering if you'd sit and listen to one of my old memories."

"Of course." She cuddled into the pillow beside him and looked into his eyes.

"I told you I had been watching you at the club," he started. "On the night you received your elements, I was angry and frustrated. I had actually bumped, quite literally, into you and you didn't even stop to look at me. I decided that I had to let my fascination for you go, and that I was too ticked off to watch Redd anymore that night. So, I gave you one last look and promised myself that it would be my last even if I had to watch Redd and you'd be dancing with him. Then I left the club. I got in my car and drove and drove. Then finally when I pulled up in front of my house I had that vision of the crescent moon earring. I knew you had to be the girl Redd was leaning over. He hadn't danced with anyone else all night," Brock said, talking slowly. Then he sighed with all the sultry sickness of a starving vampire, and looked at Trina with eyes that saw something beautiful. "It had to be you. It couldn't be anyone else. There had to be a reason I reacted so strongly whenever I came near you," he paused and gazed at her as though he was drowning. "I want to show you how I feel."

Brock looked too dangerous, too tired, or maybe too totally unaccountable for the anything he said or did for Trina to give in.

"It could have been someone else. Redd could have changed partners. He often left me standing," she said.

"I never had any doubts, but if I had, they would have been blown away by this little spice," he said, touching the metal tube tied around her neck. "Did I tell you that this is a protection pendant? And it wouldn't have worked on you if you weren't an Element User?"

"Really?" Trina asked, rolling it in her palm.

"That's why it was cold. Your element is ice. If I wore it for someone who wanted to protect me, it would burn. I burn for you."

His eyes looked glassy and tired. Then suddenly, Trina realized that she'd never seen him look tired before. When he came to talk to them for their midnight rendezvous, he never acted a tick off one hundred percent alert. Then the other night when she woke him up, he sprang to life like a jack-in-a-box. Even when he said he was tired, he didn't really look it.

At this moment, as she saw his leg bandaged and his head elevated with pillows, she understood that he wasn't someone completely untouchable. He had always seemed that way to her, almost inhuman, but now, she really saw him – maybe for the first time. He was a living being who could be hurt, vulnerable, with a real human heart beating fast in his chest. She could never imagine that her rejection of him could really hurt him. He was much too hot to be bothered with whether a little girl like her liked him or not, or so she thought. Now she saw that he needed her very much as his eyes burned with heat.

She thought that a relationship with him was a carrot hung on a stick to drive her to the loony bin. That was how she felt; that it had never been real before. Not when he gave her the necklace, or took her out for dinner, not when he invited her to live with him, or cleaned the bathroom for her, not when he asked her to sleep in his bed with him, and not even when he blew sultry heat down her back to stop her from going berserk.

He didn't ask her if she was sure she wanted him.

She didn't care.

Trina looked in his eyes and saw how much this moment mattered to him, and that sent every other thought in her mind scattering.

She bent her head down. When she was close enough he put his arms around her and he brought her mouth to his. His leg was not to be bumped, but Trina held him as close as she dared. He smelled musky and hot. It made her breathless, but the kiss was far too intense for her to handle and soon she leapt up from the bed.

"What's the matter?" he asked, looking as winded as she was.

"I'm going to hurt your leg," she said, trying to cool her burning cheeks. "And I don't want to lose control and go so far that I hurt you. Your lips are cut"

"Come here."

"Your leg!" she insisted.

"I'm drugged. I won't feel a thing," he persisted.

"That's no reason to hurt you more. You'll wake up twice as sore. Come on, grab the bull by the horns and pull yourself together," Trina said, hands on hips, trying her best to keep herself under control as well. "I'm sure we'll have a chance for all that when you're better. Besides, I need you to do a little damage control for me," Trina continued, trying desperately to change the subject.

"Why?"

"I need you to explain to everyone what happened. If you're my lover than we need to figure out what we're going to tell them together."

"Of course," he said firmly.


Author's Notes: You would not believe what I was doing last night. Making a dinosaur pinata until like midnight. After my man finished cutting like a zillion pieces of strapping tape into small manageable pieces he's like, "Is the only reason I'm doing this because you can't find the scotch tape?" I'm like, "Basically." Anyhoo - thanks for reading. And I still maintain that this is the strangest story I've ever posted for stats. More people sign up for alerts than review. Extra thanks to those who review. Just as a side note, I plan to let everyone know about my new project. Don't be surprised if you hear from me. Love, Sapphirefly!