Stages of Grief
“I can’t believe you two are this calm after everything that just happened out there?!”
“We’re not as calm as we look, dude,” Jake growled through his teeth, trying to keep his temper in check.
“We just can’t afford to lose it right now,” Chelsea sighed heavily. Flare’s anxiety had him pacing the Dahl’s mudroom. She and Jake were trying to defuse his tension, so Flash and Fauna could rest. “When my gramma got sick again, my family didn’t have time to break down every moment something went wrong. Sometimes, you just have to push through the storm and secure things before you can process.”
Flare gawked at the sadness in Chelsea’s hazel orbs as she reflected on the year-old memories. She’d shared that experience with him, but there was guilt in her voice and expression he hadn’t noticed before. The anger and fear subsided in his core, realizing his friends were concerned. Somehow, he felt like his parents were with him, trying to calm him down.
“So...” The flame Element glanced between the youths, “What should I do then? I wanna hide, but I know there’s nowhere to run...” His dark brow furrowed as hot tears returned to his magma eyes. “This is scarier than tag...!”
Thunderquake lowered his lids over yellow-orange with blue halo irises when Flare’s raised voice quieted. The behemoth sat on the floor in front of the couch by his writhing twin. Flash tried not to make much noise, but the tears and scrunched visage spoke volumes of the pain coursing through him. A thick layer of sweat glistened on his exposed skin as his whole form flinched randomly. It took everything in his brother not to crack watching.
“She sounds...!” The lightning Element whispered through his clenched teeth. “... a lot... like... mom...! Take her... advice... and stop think...ing so much...!”
“You wouldn’t be suffering if I’d saved you first,” Thunderquake’s low rumble echoed with regret and guilt.
“No...” Flash stole a hot red glance toward his brother, “You saved... the one we... both wanted to...! Thank you...! You always... were more... grounded... than me...! I wanted you... to save her...! You stopped me... from slipping again... so you did save me...!”
“Lightning...” Thunderquake looked up at his brother with teary, grateful eyes.
The twins glanced toward the hall, leading to the bedrooms. Flash nudged his already twinging head toward the caller. Thunderquake felt conflicted to leave him though.
“Go, Thunder,” Frey called from the table, still examining the cracked bangle with his mother. “Mom and I can watch Flash. She wants you with her, now.”
“Thank you, my friend.”
The titan Element rose from the floor at last. Freja stood from the table to take his place. As they passed one another, the woman smiled warmly up at the mature Element, making his strained expression ease a bit more. He continued down the hall to the second door on the right, pausing at the threshold to look in.
Fauna was lying in Leif’s bed, lovingly tucked in the blankets. Bandages were visibly wrapped over her shoulder, reaching into her torn dress. She’d been asleep since he’d broken her prison, so this was the first they’d heard a word from her. Gust and Leif turned their heads to look at him from their seats beside the bed in front of the door. The family's two, black, Forest cats coiled on either side of her head.
“Thunder...” The feral Element called again weakly. “Thunder...”
Finally entering the room, the titan Element walked between the watchers and the bed to sit on the mattress. His large hands reached tenderly to lift the caller into his arms. The cats looked up at the giant, watching with concern. Feeling his touch, Fauna’s silver orbs finally unveiled, smiling at his face. She leaned close to his chest, as she only reached his shoulders in height. Listening to his booming heartbeat calmed her, allowing her to shift to her wolf form. Gust let out a sigh of relief, and Leif put his right hand on the Element’s gripping his left one.
“She chose her mate well,” the fey Element said with reassurance.
“Did she?” Thunderquake rumbled softly, brushing the ash blonde, grey, and silver fur.
“Mother always said Father’s heartache would ease with a touch of her hand. Touch is a powerful form of healing, and yours brought her strength back to shift. Her vessel can restore itself with rest now.”
“I hesitated,” Thunderquake tore his heavy gaze away from the large wolf to her brother. “I debated on who to save first. Aren’t you angry with me?”
“You had a difficult decision to make, Thunder,” Leif spoke up when Gust’s voice faltered. “None of us blame you for considering the gravity of that choice. Flash and Fauna have been struggling with something inside of them that you’ve calmed in her. I’ve learned relationships come with obstacles you have to overcome. Some of them are personal, inner battles, but I think this is one you can shoulder together.”
Gust looked to his right. Leif’s tired expression still held hope and love. Squeezing the hand in his, their eyes met, and the Element smiled gratefully for speaking the words he struggled to form. It wasn’t often Gust was speechless, and it usually meant he felt lost. Leif had grown strong during their time together. He was pleased his song resided within the human.
Back in the family den, Flora stood beside the bay window facing the front of the house. The tree canopy was thinner on this side with the stone driveway and the large front yard that often hosted block parties. The floral Element’s unblinking eyes fixated on the skies. Jaime stood on the opposite side of the window, hiding from the sunlight.
Initially hoping to help her friend, Jaime felt exposed again. She thought this was a matter of reassuring Flora about her mother’s presence vanishing. Then, those things came out of thin air, threatening her preternatural friends. The teen had thought the Elements were invincible until Fauna and Flash - the most destructive of them - had been ensnared so easily. To make things worse, before the storm, Jaime had seen and heard the Avatars clearly, and it shook her to her core. When Flore finally started to feel better, she didn’t want to bring her down with her anxieties, especially when she hadn’t even noticed...
A familiar, red car pulled into the loose stone driveway. Coming to a sudden stop, Kristen looked like she might kick the door off trying to get out of the driver seat. Hawahkan cautiously opened the passenger door, shaken by the woman’s hasty driving, to follow after her to the new location. The holistic rushed for the back of the house to enter through the mudroom, carrying a picnic basket.
“Freja!” Kristen’s voice cried as soon as she got the door open. “I’m here!”
“Den,” Freja replied in an even tone, trying not to frighten Flash with her voice.
“Come in, Kan,” Kristen invited the nervous man inside. She paused when she saw Flare crying quietly on the futon couch in Chelsea’s arms. Jake just sat next to him, leaning forward with his forearms on his knees. “Chels... Jake...”
“He’ll be okay, Aunt Kris,” Jake answered for them as Chelsea was weeping right along with the scared Element. Glancing up at the couple, he was too fried to question the new face. “Flash and Fauna were hurt though. We got things here for now.”
Kristen nodded, continuing further into the home. When she entered the main room, she noticed Jaime cowering away by the window. Her spirits sank to think her niece had reverted back to this withdrawn phase. What had happened to them in the park?
“I think he suffers from nerve pain,” Freja got right to business. “I did not wish to use medication, but I thought oils might help.”
“So that’s why you mentioned ginger and peppermint,” Hawahkan piped up with fascination. “You really have been practicing your art, Kris.”
Freja glanced back at the unfamiliar voice. Normally, she would have welcomed guests, but she was in warrior mode, protecting the injured. Her harsh, sea blue orbs sized up the man before frowning at her friend for an explanation.
“Freja, this is Kan.” Kristen smiled apologetically, motioning a hand toward her boyfriend. “I’ve mentioned him before. Kan this is Freja Dahl, my kitchen witch friend.”
“Wait...” Freja gasped as the name clicked in her thoughts. “Hawahkan Lakota...? Oh, forgive me! I didna mean to show such a face to a guest!”
“I understand,” Hawahkan replied sheepishly, still shaken by her dominating energy from earlier. “Kris has mentioned you’ve been a mentor to her since she moved here in her letters. I’m honored to meet a healer such as yourself.”
“Kan’s grandmother is the oldest medicine worker in their tribe, so he’s familiar with holistic work. I’m sorry I forgot to mention he was here. When you mentioned injuries, I just...”
“Nonono!” Freja objected, standing from the ottoman by the couch. “All forgotten, love. Please take a look at the lad. I’ll check in on Fauna. Could I fetch you something, Hawahkan? I get flustered when children come to harm.”
“My grandmother is the same way,” the man finally relaxed, “so I understand your concern. Please, call me Kan, and I’m all right. If I can be of help, I’d like to while I can.”
“Why don’t you check on Fauna with her,” Kris answered as she started to unload her basket. “Let me know if you need my spare diffuser, Freja. I’ll take a look before I whip something up.”
Jaime glanced toward the adults. She felt stuck again, but her blank expression hid her anxiety too well. Her dark eyes trembled though. If anyone could help her, Aunt Kris would, right?
“Rain?” Flora’s voice cried with relief, pressing against the window as a cloud drifted down to the front lawn. Jaime looked out from where she leaned against the wall. The floral Element didn’t waste time rushing for the front door. The Dahl’s rarely used it, but she wanted the shortest distance to her guardian.
As she stood at the threshold, Flora watched in awe as the cloud dissipated. There stood an irritated Rain with the man from before in the lake. His skin looked paler than she recalled, but to her surprise, it began to darken again to a medium brown complexion once the sunlight touched him. He was taller than Rain, but she could have sworn they looked like brothers, except the man’s eyes looked like her mother’s.
She called softly from the door, hoping he would react. When he turned his head her way, tears welled in her emerald eyes just before she ran out to embrace him. Skye clung to the wailing, pale girl, burying his face in her dirty blonde, wavy hair. Rain watched the two for a moment, stunned and wounded, but he knew Skye had come when she called now. He didn’t dare come between them, if only for Lané's sake.
"Flora?" Frey called from the front door, "Everything all right?"
"It is, for now, Frey," Rain answered for her. "We should go inside, Skye. The clan that lives here is closely bonded with Nature. We can rest here."
"I recognize this place," Skye said with wonder as he looked up. "I've seen Flora come here often."
"You do watch us!" Flora cheered with joy, looking up at him. "Mother told me you did! I'm so glad you're here, Father!"
"The path opened because of you, my gift," Skye said softly, stroking her pale cheek with his left thumb. "I have waited a hundred revolutions to hear your voice."
"Inside, Skye," Rain grunted from the doorway. He looked embarrassed by the man's absentminded attention span.
"Skye?" Frey crocked a red eyebrow at the water man.
"Flora's father has come in our hour of need," Rain replied as he entered, but the human noted that he didn't look happy about it.