2- In Which Paranoia Fills the Air

Elena leaned up against the wall as she listened to things develop a few doors down. Could it be Luna? Or the Stranger? If so, they would know to just say Judge Hunt's name to make them go away. It was unlikely it was Hunt himself (he wouldn't take the time to do a tedious thing like Infecting Cole himself). Of course, since no one was shouting "Judge Hunt" that probably meant it wasn't the Stranger. The Others, perhaps? In that case, they probably would have used their guns. She knew at least Hayden had one.

They had a lot of enemies, this was true. Though, Elena only just now considered the possibility that they were fighting amongst themselves. After all, they had to kill each other in order to earn the Clouds so, generally, the Sons did not get along.

Hayden revealed himself once the commotion settled. He wore a distinct frown as he gestured for Elena to come to the room. Elena was able to deduce that the situation was not terribly serious.

As a rule, the Sons should not be in small spaces together without a buffer to prevent their arguments from becoming physical. However, it seemed that Elena and Hayden neglected to keep this in mind and, as a result, a normally small disagreement had escalated.

Cole was the youngest Son, a proud fourteen and a half (as he put it), though Elena felt he could have passed for much younger. He was pale faced (though that may have been a result of his current fever), with big brown eyes and messy brown hair that was perhaps due for a haircut. He seemed unsure with the size of his own body, thanks to his very recent growth spurt, and looked up innocently as Elena entered.

He was someone predictable, but at the same time, it was impossible to foresee when he would step forward to be surprising. He was rude and chose his words very poorly, brought up with nearly no manners at all. But he was actually quite smart, a secret he liked to keep simply so he wouldn't have to do things for other people. And, despite his cowardly nature, he had taken a great risk to his own health by agreeing to ride in his own Kingdom, which was something to be admired.

For a long time, Elena didn't like him very much (or at all), though she had spent more time with him and found there was much more to him than a cute face spouting unkind remarks. It took some effort, but she had found his redeemable qualities. And she could proudly say that although he was unreliable and annoying, he was also her friend.

And the target of most of the commotion, apparently. Despite his fever, Phinn had shown his younger brother no mercy and shoved him off the bed he was resting in. Like Cole, Phinn had brown eyes and brown hair (though it was slightly blonder). However, Phinn was the third Son, and eighteen years old, and perhaps a fully grown adult (appearance-wise), taking much more care into making himself strong and intimidating rather than handsome or even attractive. Of all the Sons, Phinn was definitely the most physical—he conveyed just about everything with his extreme actions rather than a conversation.

Phinn was extremely aggressive with a very short temper, two attributes that when combined, made him quite scary when he chose to be. If he felt threatened in any way, he challenged and fought his way out of the situation, even if he knew it wouldn't work. Reasoning rationally with Phinn was a nearly impossible task, and most people completely gave up on doing so a long time ago.

This is what made the odd relationship between him and Elena so very—odd. When she asked something of him, he listened. In his own way, he was gentle with her, and often put himself in danger for her benefit. And, gradually, it seemed he was developing a misguided crush on her that manifested in a strange crossover with intimacy and violent outbursts. This was part of the reason why Elena worried some harm might come to Hayden when Phinn found out about the recent Awakening: though he had never hurt her, he liberally harmed anyone who was close enough.

And it seemed Turner had been one of those people close enough to be hit by a stray fist, since he was nursing a bloody nose with a wad of tissues. The fourth Son, and seventeen years old, Turner was very unlike his brothers in almost every respect. While almost all of them were dark featured with considerably manly builds, Turner was very skinny and seemed to be close to feminine, even. His eyes were a perfectly sunny sky-blue, and his hair was so blond, it seemed to transition into white in the right lighting. Although he was definitely one of the taller ones of the seven, he didn't convey it well with his timid stance.

Maybe he was more emotional than all of them. He certainly preferred words over actions and almost always chose the pacifist's route. Of course, this may have been because of his small build and inability to pose as a real threat in combat, though it was fairly obvious Turner considered himself an entertainer above all else.

Up until recent events, naturally. If he had it his way, he would avoid all potential altercations with his siblings and all get drunk together instead. Elena liked his company to a point: he was usually optimistic and would have a less serious attitude, though ever since his Thar Infection, his smiles were much less frequent. Without his drinking or continuous positivity, he had come to realize that no one respected him, and no one relied on him. Since he had come to notice this, he had become unhappy with it. Whether or not he could do anything to change it all still remained to be seen.

Lastly, Lawson appeared completely unaffected by the brawl, having enough sense to stay back from it and avoid flailing limbs. Lawson, at twenty years old, was the oldest of the King's children. He was certainly the most attractive of all the Sons, bearing little similarity to the King, and retaining much of his mother's nearly famous beauty. He was slim and fit (though on the thin side thanks to recent events), with effortlessly maintainable good looks. His black hair contrasted with his bright green eyes, which created something almost exotic about him. He was quite aware of how handsome he was, so it made him feel distinctly…superior.

Lawson's behavior was not unusual for a terribly attractive son of a King who had always gotten everything he's wanted since the day he was born (the only thing that was denied him was his father's Kingdom of Clouds). Every motion he made had a touch of entitlement, like he somehow deserved better treatment than everyone else. But he was also charming and very smooth, so when he spoke, it was easy to agree with what he said.

Unfortunately, he was the first to be Infected, and the method it had been done to him was with a bullet to the leg, which made him unable to walk. It hampered his superiority complex, humiliating and humbling him simultaneously (which maybe he needed), though Elena wished it didn't have to be so permanent. He was the first Son she had met, and seemed to legitimately want to marry her…for some reason. Elena honestly couldn't say why, but did find his attempts to woo her a little entertaining at times. He was used to getting what he wanted (as previously established), and perhaps rejecting his proposal made him so tenacious.

"So…they beat each other up," Hayden casually explained to Elena (she wasn't at all surprised by this, since it was a fairly common occurrence for them).

Elena nodded in agreement, feeling like a disappointed babysitter who couldn't leave her troublesome charges alone for a minute without them making a mess.

Cole whined from his position on the floor, wanting someone to come over and help him up. If he wasn't so sick, Elena would have frowned at him for being lazy, but he was in a lot of pain, so she let it slide as Hayden lifted him up off the floor and put him back on the bed.

"Should I even ask what you were fighting about?" Hayden questioned, directing his inquiry at Phinn who was clearly the main perpetrator, as he was in just about every other situation.

But Phinn didn't like Hayden's tone, and therefore he didn't feel obligated to cooperate (but he probably wouldn't have cooperated anyway, regardless of Hayden's tone). Instead, Phinn crossed his arms and threw a glare at Cole, and then one at Turner for good measure.

"I had nothing to do with it," mumbled Turner, his voice muffled from his bloody nose.

"Then you should have stayed out of it," Lawson sighed in a voice that suggested what he had said loudly and clearly was meant to be under his breath.

"Cole's sick!" Turner objected to Lawson's advice not to act.

"Yeah!" Cole shouted at Phinn. "I'm sick!"

Phinn sort of lunged like he would actually go and attack Cole (especially after all that scolding), but Elena took it upon herself to get in between them and had to use almost her entire body to fend him off. Phinn seemed not to realize what she had done at first and made full bodily contact before practically leaping back like a vampire might react to sunlight. He barely bumped her, though when he backed up and she could see his face, he looked almost devastated, like he had accidentally smacked her or something.

"Elena," said Hayden quietly, a little shocked with her decision to intercept Phinn (Hayden had gone to stand next to Cole and probably would have stopped Phinn if Elena hadn't done anything).

Awkwardly, Elena cleared her throat as Phinn eyed her, looking rather angry that she would dare show off that she could stop him from acting with minimal effort (even though she hadn't intended to demonstrate such a thing). "There's a lot of reasons why this isn't the time to be arguing and beating each other up," Elena pointed out. "So how about we all try a little harder?"

They were silent as they all stared at her. In particular, Lawson looked particularly intrigued, and a bit confused. Did he know she wasn't a Chaste Beauty anymore? No, that was impossible. How could he know something like that? He couldn't. She ought to stop being so paranoid.

"Elena is right," Hayden agreed to break the silence. "Try to be mature. We'll be at Dorn in a few hours. At least until we're out of this Kingdom, try to refrain from turning on one another."

"That seems reasonable," Lawson said, using his cane to get himself to his feet. "We were talking about getting ourselves to a larger room. Those things can go through walls. We'd be safer if the walls were further apart."

"I'd also like to be further apart from the lot of you," Turner agreed.

Hayden offered to give Cole a piggy back on the trek to the larger room. Although Cole was strong enough to cause problems and complain, apparently he was still too sick to walk around on his own. And so Lawson led the way out the door, followed soon thereafter by Turner who was still glaring unhappily at Phinn. Hayden nodded his head to Elena, and she was about to follow when Phinn stood up straight and mumbled something (it was more like a grunt).

It was obvious to Elena that he wanted to tell her something in private, and Hayden must have understood as well. "We'll catch up," Elena said.

"Be careful," Hayden said, and Cole waved passively, obviously just wanting to get moving.

Hayden may have been talking about being careful of the Others or Hunt. Though, it was entirely possible he was referring to Phinn. Either way, Elena promised him they would both be careful as he left.

Phinn paused a moment, then strode to the door to make sure everyone had actually gone. When he was satisfied with the empty hallway, he turned back to Elena, looking strange in a baffling kind of way. At first, Elena thought maybe he was still angry with her for making him bump into her (since he hadn't spoken). But then he seemed almost disappointed in a way.

"What?" Elena prompted since he wasn't doing or saying anything and she didn't think they should be separated from the others for too long.

"Elle," he began, "you did it, then?"

Elena sighed heavily. "I didn't mean to bump into you," she said. "I just didn't want anyone to get hurt. We sort of have enough of that."

He frowned and stepped out into the hallway. He sort of started walking away, but then he returned, keeping his back to her with sort of an angry look in his eyes as he glanced back. "That's not what I'm talking about, all right?" he said.

And, before giving her an opportunity to inquire further, he ducked out of sight, like he was running away from her. Confused and frustrated, Elena chased after him, sort of fed up that he expected her to have any idea what he was talking about.