Xonel: Some good stuff in here. And some not-so-good stuff in my opinion. But, you guys are the judges, not me.

Also, I want to thank everyone who's read my latest chapter of How Valens Went Insane. It was one of the few times where I actually really liked what I had written, so it was nice to get some positive feedback and know that I actually HAD written something at least halfway decent, instead of just thinking I had.

Anyway, I do not own Tales of Legendia. Here's the list of prompts:

1. The story must involve a carpet in it.

2. During the story, a character gets dirty.

3. The story must involve a cape in it.

4. A character will take a bath.

5. The story must have a water-spirit involved in the middle.

6. During the story, there is a sudden change in weather.

7. The story takes place in mid-fall.

8. The story starts during a workday.

9. During the story, a character makes a meal for themselves.

10. The story is set during a party.

1. Disbelief

Senel continued to pace. "Are you sure?" He stopped abruptly. "I think it really should be closer to the window."

Chloe pulled the carpet over to where Senel was pointing. "You would have to try to not be sure these days, Senel. I'm certain."

Senel paused, examining the new arrangement. He shook his head. "Nah, I think maybe you were right before. It's better by the door." Chloe paused, examining the room, then nodded and moved the carpet back. "Still, I mean..." Senel shook his head, running a hand over his face. "You're positive?"

Chloe rolled her eyes. "Yes, Senel. I'm positive."

"Then shouldn't I be the one moving that?"

Chloe raised an eyebrow, an amused smile playing on her lips. "That might be nice."

"It still doesn't look right," Senel muttered, shaking his head. He met Chloe's eyes briefly before moving to adjust the carpet yet again. "You're positive, but you're not scared at all?"

"It might be better by the fireplace. Are you scared?"

"Well, yeah!"

Chloe laughed once. "You didn't see me when I first found out. I nearly fainted on Nicole."

Senel halted midway across the room and looked up at her. "You? Faint? I don't think so." He continued to drag the carpet toward the fireplace.

Chloe sat down in one of the plush chairs, exhaustion suddenly catching up with her. "Well, I almost did. Nicole said, and I quote, 'You were almost as pale as Jay when you told me, Chloe'."

Senel chuckled, giving the carpet a final tug and looking at it. "As pale as Jay? That is pretty bad, I guess."

Chloe stood just a moment to retrieve her glass from across the room. She took a swallow and grimaced slightly. Oh right. No chilled wine for her, now. "You know, I should make you suffer with me. No wine for you either."

Senel couldn't help but chuckle. "What did I do?"

"What did you do? This is all your fault, Senel."

Senel crossed his arms, amused. "Oh really? My fault, huh?" Chloe nodded. "And I suppose you had absolutely no say in it at all."

"Of course not."

"I get it. I'm supposed to be the one to make sure things don't get to this point, right?"

"That's right. Haven't you read the Song of Songs?"

Senel raised an eyebrow, chuckling. He had to admit, he liked this playful side of Chloe. "I thought I wasn't allowed to because it was too suggestive and even an idiot like me might get what it was talking about."

"First of all, I never called you an idiot, I said you were dense. Second, I don't have to worry about that now."

"Oh?"

Chloe nodded. "It's simple. We're already married and divorce is frowned upon in Gadoria, not to mention it'll earn you a smack or three on the head from Raynard. And even if you did try to chase after someone else, with my House restored it would be easy to force you into paying me child support- you know, because I obviously need it," Chloe waved her arm, indicating the "small" bedroom, complete with its own bathroom and dressing room.

Senel shook his head and took a seat next to her. "You know, I'm glad I'm not that kind of man, then."

Chloe's amusement melted into fondness. "I am too."

Senel sighed, looking over the room again. "You know, maybe we should wait until the crib is put in to figure out where the carpet should go."

2. Worthy

Air. She needed air. Her chest hurt. The blood pounded in her ears. And there was the wheezing. Always the wheezing...

She stopped walking and collapsed face-down in the mud. She didn't care that she would hear an earful when she got home. She would not give up her training. She would push herself, as she always had.

No. She would push herself even more. She had run for, what? Maybe thirty minutes? Pathetic.

Hot tears of frustration mixed with the rainwater running down her face. Her breathing wasn't getting better for some reason. Usually it did, but... Not now... For some reason, she was calm. Perhaps she would die here in the rain, face-down in the mud... She was tired of failing. What would it matter if she never arose from the wet earth?

"That is an exceptionally selfish thought, child."

Her head was pounding, her wheezes were loud to her ears, and her vision was starting to dim. She thought she could make out a glowing, winged figure. An angel?

"You are weak, child. You push yourself too far. I shall help you."

Why? She wanted to ask, but she didn't have the strength, and her eyes were starting to slide shut.

"It is because I have found you to be worthy." The voice began to fade from her hearing. "I sense that your future may very well be tied to my own, as well as those of the others..."

...xXx...

She could breath. That was the first thing she noticed upon waking up. The second thing she noticed was her teacher. For once, she felt sheepish.

"I'm glad you're awake. Your father commanded your brother to stay by your side, and he hasn't stirred since." Will's expression turned stern. "You know your body can't take that kind of physical exertion, Estelle."

Estelle swallowed. She had spent years hiding her weakness, but she still wanted to push herself. She still wanted to one day be able to ignore her weakness altogether, and have it not be a hindrance at all. But even she knew that going for a run, in the rain, when she was already feeling a bit strained, was a bad idea. She turned her head to see her brother sitting in one of Will's chairs, his head tilted back against the chair, snoring. She shifted her gaze to her hands. "I'm sorry, Mr. Raynard."

Will nodded. "I appreciate it, but I'm really not the one you should apologize to. You're parents went to see Arnold Alcott. You were so bad when they first saw you that they feared for your life. They thought Arnold might have something that would save you."

Estelle nodded, swallowing a lump in her throat. Will turned to leave, then paused in the doorway.

"Your crystal eres is the fastest-developing I've ever witnessed. You know that, don't you?"

Estelle frowned. He didn't sound like he was trying to convince her that she had nothing to prove. Everyone was always telling her to go easier on herself, but not this time. This time, Will seemed thoughtful, almost... intrigued. "Yes..." she answered, her voice trailing.

"I heard a sharp knock, and then found you on my doorstep. But I could swear I saw something in the sky, flying away from my house..." He met her gaze, his expression unreadable. "It looked like the Summon Spirit, Rem."

"What does that mean?" Estelle asked simply.

Will shook his head. "I don't know."

He left.

3. Ready

Damon reached out his hand, fingertips meeting with their reflection in the mirror.

He wasn't a prodigy like his sister, but he was a skilled iron eren in his own right. His mother would always tell him that in some way, he was far better than she herself was at his age. When he asked her why, she gave an ambiguous answer, saying that he had the right motivation for what he was doing.

Well, nomatter what anyone said, he still felt uncertain. Was he truly ready for this? Was he truly ready for the responsibility that came with it?

Was he ready to wear his House colors not just as a noble, but as a knight?

He noticed movement behind him and met Estelle's gaze reflected in the mirror. She was leaning against the door frame, her arms crossed. Yet, something about her was different. He thought maybe she was uncomfortable for some reason, but that couldn't be true.

There was a long silence, yet it wasn't awkward. Finally, Estelle spoke up.

"It's just a formality, Damey."

Damon blinked, slightly taken aback at her soft tone. He sighed. "I know."He frowned slightly, adjusting the collar of his uniform. "And I know Mom and Dad think I've been ready for almost a year now. Still..."

"You are ready, Damon."

Alright, his sister was officially not normal. Where was her sarcasm? Where was her usual "Damon-reserved" condescending tone of voice? "Am I?" was all he could think to say.

"Of course you are." Estelle smirked. "The only thing I'm worried about is how in the world you plan on getting through your all-nighter in the chapel. You never were a big fan of prayer."

Damon found himself rolling his eyes, feeling more comfortable with his sister making fun of him. Yet he could tell that her jab didn't have its usual venom. "Yeah, well... Apparently I have a harder time than you of believing I'm talking to more than just the ceiling."

Estelle actually let out a brief chuckle at that, but her expression quickly became dark. "I spent time just last night in the chapel... I hate to admit it, but even now I wish our positions had been reversed. I still wish I was the one about to be knighted."

Damon's brows knit together. "You would rather be a knight than...?"

Estelle nodded without hesitation. "Yes," she said softly. "I would trade all of that power in the blink of an eye if it would give me the health and eres I need to be a knight. I never wanted a power such as this." Damon said nothing, and Estelle pushed herself off the wall to come and stand next to him. He thought he saw her swallow, and she nodded once before continuing. "I've been absolutely horrible to you these past few years. There's no excuse for that. I-" the strength in her voice faltered and she fell silent. She blinked, then shook her head and walked over to the bed where Damon had carefully laid out his cape. She picked it up and settled it on his shoulders, fitting the shoulder clasps together. "...I am glad that one of us is a knight..."

Damon's expression softened, and he immediately felt compassion for the sister who was just now showing a side of herself which he hadn't seen since she was five years old. "You're the better warrior here. I mean that." Estelle shook her head and opened her mouth to protest. "And more importantly," he continued, "I forgive you." He turned around and hugged her.

Estelle stood rigid, shocked at first. Eventually, she relaxed, and even managed to loosely return the hug. "You're just like Father, you know that?"

Damon released her and gave her an amused look. "And you are far too sarcastic to be anything at all like Mom."

"Despicable," she muttered, scowling. "Now hurry up. You're important enough that His Majesty himself will be there, and I don't think he's someone we should make wait."

4. Clueless

Chloe was upset. She wasn't in a rage, but she was definitely angry. It was all Senel's fault, of course. She wasn't sure how, exactly, but it was.

Okay, so if she was completely honest with herself she was just using him as a scapegoat. Still, he had to play some part in her rather... unforgettable experience sliding down the muddy side of that hill.

"It's just a bath, Chloe. There's no need to be afraid."

Chloe blinked. She hadn't even been aware that she was staring at the metal tub, steam rising from it steadily. Her momentary confusion immediately turned to annoyance. "I'm not afraid! I may not like water but I'm not about to disregard personal hygiene entirely."

"Oh. Well then what's the problem? Just get in."

Chloe smacked her forehead. Was he really that clueless? "We're not even engaged yet, Senel."

"What does that have to do with-"

"Get out of the room!"

5. Overlooked

It was a strange thing, to be a god. Well, not really a god, not like the Ferines seemed to believe.

No, Nerifes was not omniscient. In fact, Nerifes was still feeling rather strange. There was a distinctly uncomfortable feeling, being split into two parts, one raging, the other quiet. Nerifes could feel both parts, fully and completely. Even for a powerful spirit, seeing out of two sets of eyes, feeling from two different bodies, and constantly being in a rage and... not in a rage was disorienting enough to cause some pretty severe nausea.

Thankfully, by the time anything at all actually mattered, Nerifes had mastered focusing on only one self at a time. And thankfully, it was focusing on its quiet self when that obnoxious woman with the horns declared, "There's a reason this place is called The Waterways!"

Nerifes had been keeping tabs on this little band of not-so-merry men and women. After all, the Marinade or whatever the Ferines called her was traveling with them. Nerifes just preferred to call her "The Chosen One", but apparently the village leaders never got the memo. Even after thousands of years.

But, as much as Nerifes tried to keep from directly influencing mankind, there was one very important fact that could not be overlooked. Shirley would be miserable with Senel. Without a doubt, Senel would eventually be miserable with Shirley. Not as brother and sister, but in a romantic way they were doomed. Nerifes could clearly envision what their lives would look like five years down the road, and it was not pretty. It involved fake smiles, lots of air-freshener, and mutant cockroaches.

Now it wasn't that Nerifes was a prude. Absolutely not. In fact, Nerifes was a real softy at heart. Nerifes would often travel in phantasmal, ghostly form and read pirate romance novels over the shoulders of the Gadorian youth. In fact, Nerifes would sometimes go to the writers of the books themselves and whisper plot suggestions in their ears. No one would ever suspect that Claudio was the creation of the spirit of the ocean.

In other words, Nerifes was old enough, wise enough, and sappy enough to know exactly the type of man who would make the Marinade happy, and it was not the noble pirate type, like Claudio. And Senel was almost exactly like Claudio, except he was a marine, not a pirate. No, Shirley would be more happy with a Jacques man. The depressed scholar with an attitude, punk-type guy. Shirley would think a guy like that was "dark and mysterious".

No, a Claudio, like Senel, was meant to be with a different kind of woman. A woman who, maybe, denied any tender feelings when they first arose. A woman who would even convince herself that he was just a despicable pirate, not worthy of a even a scullery maid's graces. A woman who would call him out on every single mistake or dastardly thing that he did. A woman who, unknowingly, had fallen for him. Hard. Despite her protests. A woman who would eventually see that yes, he could be a jerk, but that jerk arose to do a big softy's bidding. A woman who realized, somewhat ashamedly, that she was just as bad as this "jerk" in every way. A woman who would finally admit to herself that she was head-over-heels, hopelessly in love. A woman who would hate that fact, and feel the knife twisting inside her gut every time she saw her dear Claudio smiling with that other woman who was so much better for him than she herself could ever be.

In other words, Senel needed a brilliant ninny to compliment his own dense cookie-cutter heroism. Senel needed a woman like Chloe Valens.

All of this passed through Nerifes' mind in a rush as the horned-lady's lackey pulled the lever, releasing a raging torrent (no pun intended) of water toward the Marinade's friends. And Nerifes squealed with delight as the most epic of opportunities arose. The only thing required was the right timing.

The scene played out just like it was To Love A Pirate come to life. The normally brave and valiant Chloe Valens began to sink under the rushing blue waters, having hidden her inability to swim. She started to flail, knowing panic for the first time in many long years. She reached her hand up into the air, breaking the surface of the waves, but her lungs were screaming for oxygen. Then, miraculously, she heard someone shout her name, and was able to utter a single "Help!" before salty water closed off her plea. Her vision started to fade, just as she felt someone grab her hand.

It was Senel, of course. He wrapped his arms around her, letting the current carry them, and struggled to get her head above the water.

They were, in a sense, embracing. In the water. In seawater. So Nerifes' power was surrounding them. Nerifes concentrated said power very subtly, causing the water around them to glow brightly. Unmistakably.

Unfortunately, Senel's brain somehow dismissed the event as just a trick his mind was playing on him. By the time they washed up on the shore all the way at the bottom of the ruin, he had forgotten the incident altogether, and it never occurred to him that the glowing water could possibly be Nerifes giving him and the girl who currently hated his guts a blessing.

6. Training

"Hyah! Kah! Tah! Light Spear!"

Chloe couldn't help but grin proudly, backing away from her son's attack. Damon truly was a master swordsman. Already an official Knight of Gadoria for two years, he was developing his own unique style of swordplay.

Chloe raised her sword slightly and lunged forward. "Gambit!"

Damon sidestepped, parrying at the same time to give himself more room. He backed up a couple of steps, keeping perfect form.

"You can't keep retreating all the time, Damon." Chloe rushed in with a series of normal attacks.

Damon blocked each one. "I can't fight my own mother without holding back."

Chloe raised an eyebrow. "Oh really?" She sped up her attacks, then feinted. Damon fell for it and she quickly disarmed him. "You're a good swordsman, Damon. But you'll need to give it your all if you want to beat me."

Damon smiled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck- a habit he picked up from their father.

He picked up his practice sword and asked, "How has Estelle been doing with her training? We've both been so busy lately I haven't been able to ask her."

Chloe started to walk back toward the manor alongside her son. "Will says she's doing very well. He tells me it won't be long before she masters all of the crystal eres he knows."

Damon nodded. "What about her training with Dad?" he asked softly.

"She's been doing very well with that too," Chloe answered just as softly. "Of course, your dad doesn't want to go too hard on her, and I don't blame him. I think she's still frustrated that she can't learn his style of fighting as quickly as she wants too, especially since she doesn't have the eres to help her with it. But I think she finally understands why she needs to take her time with it."

Damon nodded.

The two of them left their practice swords in the armory, then went to their separate rooms to get ready for dinner. After Chloe was finished washing up and dressing, a knock came to her door.

"Come in," Chloe called, giving her hair one final run through with a brush.

"Chloe. Senel, Damon, and Estelle are waiting for you on the main balcony." Nicole paused. "It's snowing outside."

Chloe started. "What? It's not supposed to be Winter for several more weeks! Besides, it never snows in Gadoria."

Nicole pursed her lips and shook her head. "Forgive me for appearing senile before my time, but my bones tell me there's a strangeness in the air... Chloe, I believe something important is happening."

Chloe blinked, shaking her head slightly, then set down the brush and hurried to the balcony.

Her family was gathered before her, all staring up at the sky. It was a very light sprinkling, but sure enough, white flakes of snow drifted down from the grey skies.

"I don't get it," Senel said. "I haven't been in Gadoria as long as you Chloe, but I've still never seen snow here."

"Nor have I, Senel," she answered.

Estelle let out a breath. "Something's coming. Something bad. It may already be here."

7. Showers

He had been called dense before, and this was probably true in some respects. However, Senel was by no means stupid. He knew why she was up here, the woman he had asked just a few days ago to marry him. He knew it still hurt. And he understood why she made herself sit here, watching the light sprinkling of rain fall from the sky. He couldn't explain it if he was asked to. By all logic, it didn't make sense that his fiance would subject herself to a pain long-remembered. A pain that she had tried to forget and bury.

He understood that it still hurt. In a way, he understood a little of why it still hurt. What he didn't understand was his complete inability to ease that pain. He had tried so many times, truly wishing that she could enjoy the rain as he himself did. He suspected she did sometimes. But he knew that she would slip back into these brooding moods, welcoming the rain as an old acquaintance. Not a friend, but not quite an enemy either. More of a force- a force that had taken something precious from her, yet didn't mean to cause her pain.

He knelt down beside her, putting an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close, and draping his heavy oiled cloak over the both of them.

She looked up at him, offering a sad smile. She leaned into him, enjoying his warmth, although even by Gadorian standards it wasn't that cold.

She sighed. "I'm sorry, Senel. I should be happy, but even now I can't get it off my mind."

"It's alright," Senel said, squeezing her shoulders. "The anniversary of that day was only a little while ago. I understand that this is a difficult time of year for you."

"I don't want it to be. I know they wouldn't want it to be, either. They would want me to be happy with the man who just asked me to marry him."

Senel rested his chin on her head, taking in the scent of her hair mixing with the scent of the rain. "Norma will force you to be happy."

Chloe chuckled at that and Senel felt pride swell in his chest at the fact that he was able to lighten her mood, even just a little. "I suspect she will," Chloe said. Then, more softly, "She can't possibly make me as happy as you have, though."

"Well, like I said. I know how hard this time of the year is for you."

"Mm."

They sat together in silence for a while, out in the rain on the main balcony of Valens Manor. Rain was a common occurrence in Gadoria, during the Fall.

Chloe shifted, then reached up and pressed her lips to Senel's own in a tender kiss, tracing the line of his jaw with her thumb. When she broke away, she said, "You know all those times I've called you dense, despicable, worthless, and a coward?"

Senel smiled slightly in an expression between amusement and mock-indignation. "Yeah."

"I take them all back."

8. Protective

Senel took a sip from his mug as he shifted the stack of reports on his desk, now down to the last one that had come in for the day. Things had been unbelievably slow lately. Mostly the reports were documents on how much grain was left in the province, reports on taxes, and various other boring things like that. But, having officially become "Lord Coolidge" twenty-something years ago- almost thirty, now that he thought about it- it was expected of him to make sure that everything was in order in the Southern Province- the province looked over by the House of Valens.

He sighed and took another sip. He had often said that if it wasn't for the great Gadorian invention of coffee, he would never get all his work done. He still thought that was true. He turned the page over, and was happily surprised to see that this particular report was only a single page long.

Senel smiled and stretched, then checked the clock, put the reports away, and went to the private quarters he shared with his wife. He wasn't surprised to see her waiting for him.

"Well?" she asked, holding out her arms.

Senel smirked. "You look every inch the intimidating High Lady of the House of Valens." He went to his dresser and started changing into his own High Lord nobleman suit.

"Good. I'm not about to let Mister Tulan off easily."

Senel chuckled. "You gotta cut him some slack, Chloe. He's a good guy."

Chloe raised an eyebrow. "This coming from the man who wanted to punch out Estelle's last interest."

Senel shrugged. "I'm a father, that's what I do."

Chloe put her hands on her hips. "And I'm a mother."

Senel nodded. "Right. You're supposed to use subtler methods, like poison. Anyway, Jaden's a good guy."

Chloe sniffed and made a show of smoothing her skirts. "I suppose he is better than Lord Bryce Flint."

"Anyone's better than Bryce."

"True." Chloe glanced at the clock as Senel finished dressing. "We need to get going. I'm sure he's already sweating."

"Yep, I'm sure he is. How do I look?"

Chloe crossed the distance between them and adjusted the collar of his coat. "Perfect." She smiled wickedly. "Like a man who could send unworthy punks to the guillotine."

Senel mirrored her smile, kissed her briefly, and offered his arm. They went downstairs to the Sunlit Hall, the largest and most intimidating audience chamber of Valens Manor. It was usually reserved for meeting only with royalty, but they decided to utilize the room for this special occasion as well.

Senel smirked. He knew exactly why Jaden wanted to meet with them, even if Jaden didn't know that he knew. He meant what he said when he called Jaden a good man. He was a man that Senel approved of in every way, as he knew Chloe did. But, parental over-protectiveness and a baser desire to mess with the guy led both himself and his wife to be as cruel as they possibly could. After all, if Jaden could survive this trial without backing down, then he truly was worthy.

They came to the doors of the Sunlit Hall and Senel glanced at his wife. She nodded, and they both assumed their coldest, stoniest expressions available. Senel nodded to Thomas.

Thomas clapped his hands and two servants opened the large double doors.

"High Lord Senel Coolidge of the House of Valens: the Fist of Gadoria, and High Lady Chloe Valens, of the House of Valens: knight of Gadoria," Thomas announced in a clear voice.

Senel led Chloe to the two gilded chairs toward the end of the hall, walking past the nervous young man waiting to speak with them, without so much as giving him a glance. They both sat down gracefully, tall and regal.

"You wanted to speak with us, Sir Jaden Tulan?" Senel asked.

Jaden gulped. "Y-Yessir." He fell silent.

The silence stretched until Chloe spoke up. "Well? What is it you wanted to address?"

Jaden closed his eyes, nodded to himself, and then met their gazes. He squared his shoulders. "It concerns your daughter, Lady Valens."

Senel narrowed his eyes. "Our daughter?" he asked. "I would advise you to be very careful about what you say, Sir Tulan."

Jaden met his eyes. "With all do respect, Lord Coolidge, I humbly ask to take your daughter's hand in marriage." He bowed his head. "I would have your blessing, if I may." He kept his head bowed, and this time sank to his knee, pressing his fists to the ground in a respectful kneel.

Senel exchanged surprised glances with his wife. The hall was filled with silence as they both thought the same thing: He really is a worthy man if he's bowing to us like we're royalty. Several moments passed as they both struggled to wrap their minds around the sheer seriousness this man was displaying to them in asking them such a question (not that they would have it any other way), but eventually they couldn't handle it any more. They had known that such a question was coming, and in all honesty they liked Jaden and saw him as a welcome addition to the family. Senel felt his own expression cracking first, and soon he and his wife couldn't contain it any more. They burst out laughing.

Jaden looked up, confused. He opened his mouth to say something, only to close it again.

Senel stood up, Chloe following his lead, and walked toward Jaden. "Stand up, Jaden. You don't need to be so formal."

Jaden stood slowly, shaking his head as he tried to make sense of the situation.

Chloe smiled. "We've been expecting you to ask this for a while, now. I'm sorry, but we couldn't resist making this as uncomfortable for you as humanly possible."

Senel clapped him on the shoulder. "And you handled it better than either of us thought was possible. Just thinking about if I had had to face Chloe's parents like this sends shivers down my spine."

Jaden shook his head. "Wait a minute. So... I mean... Huh?"

Senel chuckled. "You have my blessing, Jaden."

"And mine as well," Chloe added. Senel opened his mouth to add something of his own, but Chloe beat him to it, "But if you ever harm Estelle in any way, you'll know what its like to taste my blade."

"And her blade doesn't taste like honey," Senel said, still smiling. "Believe me."

Jaden shook his head again. "Thank you. Very much. And I don't mean to be disrespectful, so please don't take this the wrong way, but... You two are... odd..."

Both of them laughed at that. "Once the first grey hair appears, you realize that you have to be able to make a joke out of everything if you want to live a happy life," Chloe said. "Some annoying friends of ours beat that into our skulls a while ago."

Senel chuckled. "In other words, Jaden, yes. We're odd."

9. Rotund

Chloe stared at the small oven in front of her. "My old acquaintance," she murmured. "The one who refuses to be helpful, no matter what I'm facing."

She wasn't a terrible cook, like Harriet. She could follow instructions and most of what she made was more than edible (aside from that one time she tried to make lasagna and the tomatoes caught on fire, but that was a completely isolated incident). Usually the food she made was pretty good. But it was simple, and usually either involved noddles or broth. Why? Because they were the easiest things to make. She knew how to put flavor together, she just didn't know how to actually cook anything outside of soup and pasta.

Well, that was going to change today. She was hungrier than she ever thought possible, and she was having the weirdest craving for a nice juicy hamburger with basil-brie cheese and peanut butter. She might even sprinkle some chalk dust on it. She had no idea why, but that's what she wanted. Forget those small, unsatisfying healthy burgers. She wanted meat.

"Well, C, are you gonna stare at it all day, or are you gonna light it?"

Chloe blinked. "Oh, right." She lit a match and started to kneel before stopping herself. Dang. She really couldn't do anything could she? She glanced at Norma, who was smiling with barely-contained laughter. "Shut up." She handed her the match to light the fire in the oven and stood up straight again. "You know this is all Senel's fault."

"Blaming your snookums again?"

Chloe felt her cheeks go red. "I do not call him that, Norma! How many times do I have to tell you I don't call him by any of the ultra-cheesy nicknames you and Moses are so fond of?"

Norma stood back up and blew out the match. "I'm gonna find out sooner or later what you two call eachother in private. You've gotta have some nicknames for eachother."

Chloe shook her head as she took out the hamburger meat from the refrigerator. "Whatever." She set the meat down.

"Ah ha! So you don't deny that you two have mushy nicknames for eachother?"

Chloe rolled her eyes and mumbled. "They are not mushy."

"Whatever you say, C." Norma glanced at the stove. "Hey, are you sure you want to try baking the meat? In case you didn't know, most people grill hamburgers."

Chloe narrowed her eyes. "When you're six months pregnant I won't criticize you for any extremely particular, abnormal cravings you get. Don't criticize me for the ones I'm getting now."

"Alright, C, sheesh. Man, and I thought you had your whiny moments before."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing!"

It took a moment for Chloe to realize she was very nearly growling like a bear. Growling like a bear? Is this how mother Eggbears feel all the time? For some reason she found the thought extraordinarily funny and started to giggle.

Norma put a glob of meat into the oven and gave her a look. "Alright, at the risk of being mauled-" this made Chloe laugh harder- "I gotta say that you are just acting downright weird, C. And I mean more than usual."

Chloe continued to laugh, at the same time clenching her fists in utter frustration. "I can't wait for this kid to be born! Do you have any idea what its like to be pregnant for six months?"

Norma took a step back, raising her hands defensively. "Can't say that I do. I take it its horrible?"

"Yes! And brilliant at the same time!"

"What if you and Senny decide you want a second one?"

Chloe responded with an especially hysterical-sounding laugh.

10. Mushy

Senel took a sip from his champagne glass, going over what Moses had told him just a few minutes ago. Ya should try callin' her by some special name. I know Bubbles' face lights up ev'ry time Ah call 'er that. With a nudge he added, And Ah've picked out a couple more nicknames that she just loves.

You mean like "Foofiekins"? I thought you two were using those mushy names just to make the rest of us gag.

Moses had grinned. Nah, that was just a perk.

Senel sighed to himself, looking at Chloe from across the hall. She was talking to Norma, no doubt telling her how happy she was for her and Moses.

Senel had to agree, they were meant for eachother.

More and more, he was becoming convinced that he and Chloe were meant for eachother, too. Yes, they already knew they liked eachother. They were still "in love" in the sense that everything was exciting and life itself was more vibrant when they were around eachother. But things had felt that way when he still had Stella, and they had even felt that way for that short period of time when he had thought that maybe his love for Shirley was romantic in nature, instead of just a close bond like brother and sister.

So yes, he and Chloe were "in love", but that wasn't enough. He had to know that the two of them could stand to live with eachother for the rest of their lives. He had to know that their excited puppy-love would turn into real, life-long true love. He had to know that he and Chloe were meant to be together.

And he was being convinced more and more each day that that was the case. He had already asked Will if such a thing seemed likely, and the researcher had replied that given the growth in their relationship, yes it did seem likely. He had asked Moses as well, who replied with a "Yeehaw!" and "Are you kiddin'? O' course you two are meant for eachother!"

And now, Moses had told him that he should try nicknames to "strengthen" their relationship. Senel had thought about it before, but he had always thought the nicknames he came up with were boring and unoriginal, so he didn't pursue it. But now, when they were at their respective best-friends' wedding, surrounded by hundreds of people in a happy environment, it couldn't hurt to try, right?

Senel nodded to himself. Right. But he at least wouldn't risk embarrassing her where they might be overheard.

He set his empty champagne glass down on a side-table and walked across the room, weaving his way through the crowd of people, toward where Chloe was still talking with Norma against the far wall.

As soon as he was in range, he pulled her into a one-armed hug and pressed a quick kiss to her lips. He felt his chest swell when she smiled, a prominent blush on her cheeks. She had told him before that she liked being surprised like that. Yeah, we're definitely in love.

Norma raised an eyebrow, grinning. "Man, would you just propose already, Senny? We all know its gonna happen sooner or later and you've already made poor C wait for your sorry butt to notice her in the first place. You don't want JJ to get married before you do too, do you?"

"Norma..." Chloe's threat was obviously half-hearted.

Norma shrugged. "I'm just saying..."

Senel shook his head. "Anyway, congratulations, Norma. I hope you and Moses are happy together."

Norma raised her glass. "Already are, Senny."

"Mind if I take Chloe away for a little while?"

Norma's features slid into her trademark sly grin. "Be my guest, Senny. I didn't know you'd take my advice so soon."

"Norma!" Senel glanced at Chloe and noted that her face was beet red.

Norma's grin broadened. "No need to get offended, C. Anyway, you two have fun! I better see you guys on the dance floor later."

Senel shook his head and led Chloe outside to the open, grassy area behind the reception hall. It was night, and a faint breeze carried the scent of sea salt toward them. Senel went to the railing at the edge of the cliff, overlooking the ocean, and leaned against it on his arms. Chloe followed and leaned against him.

Senel let a moment pass, enjoying Chloe's presence and the familiar feel of the ocean breeze against his face. Soon, though, he knew he had to speak. He actually didn't feel as nervous as he thought he would.

"So, Beautiful..." He let his voice trail away.

Chloe remained silent.

He felt a sudden stab of panic and looked down to judge her reaction. He was just a little surprised that her eyes were widened, but they held to malice.

She looked up at him. "'Beautiful'? Moses talked you into that, didn't he?"

Senel chuckled softly. "Yeah. Sorry. He said I should come up with some nicknames for you. I know what you're thinking; 'Never take advice from Moses'."

Chloe surprised him by shaking her head. She remained quiet for a moment before saying softly, "Well?"

Senel glanced at her. "Huh?"

"What other nicknames have you come up with?"

Senel grinned. If she was willing to accept some of them, he had to try some of the more ridiculous ones he had come up with. "Fufucuddlypoops?"

Chloe's eyes snapped to his in a glare. "No."

Senel raised his hands defensively. "That one was a joke."

"Good." Chloe's gaze returned to the water in front of them.

Despite her response, Senel couldn't pass up another one he knew she would reject. "My knight in shining spandex?"

He expected another glare, or even a slap to the face for that one, but Chloe surprised him by laughing. "I have to admit, that's pretty creative for you."

Senel frowned indignantly. "Hey, I can be creative when I want to be."

"Uh huh, and Jay's a treehugger."

"Alright then, what about 'Pookie'?"

Chloe continued to laugh. "That's been done before, Senel. And no, I refuse to be called 'Pookie'."

Despite himself, Senel found that he was starting to laugh too. "Alright, then. Muffin."

Chloe raised an eyebrow. "Are you implying something?" she said between laughs.

"Cutie?"

"That one's pretty old too, Senel."

"Alright, you know I have to come up with the sappiest name possible now, right?"

Chloe raised an eyebrow, still grinning. "Sappy doesn't equate to being creative, Senel."

"Oh, but doesn't it, Schnooglewookumpooh?"

"Not really, Smoochiewuddlecakes."

"Moogliepums."

"Gooblepoochie."

"Wuddledoodlepoo."

"Foofiecuddlemush."

Senel laughed and shook his head. "I think we've been around Moses and Norma too long."

Chloe smiled. "Indeed."

Senel let out a breath. "You didn't object to 'Beautiful'."

Chloe leaned her head against him. Somehow, he knew her cheeks were turning red again. "I can't really complain when I always used to wish you would call me that instead of 'strong'."

Senel laughed at that, but quickly fell quiet again, two more names dancing around in his skull. Both were equally risky to suggest; one because he really was dragging things out and it would be a huge admission on his part, the other because Chloe could justifiably get offended, especially if she heard his reasoning.

He decided to risk getting attacked first. "Kitten?"

Chloe was silent for a long moment. "Might I ask why?"

Alright, Senel. State the good reasons first. "Because you're regal like a cat. Also quick and yes, powerful. You're lithe... sleek. You can be playful... and you can be territorial." He took a deep breath. "And you don't like water." He closed his eyes, not sure at all what to expect.

"...You really put a lot of thought into that one, didn't you?" Chloe asked softly.

Senel nodded. "Yeah."

Chloe looked up at him. "I think I can put up with 'Kitten'. So long as its from you."

Senel chuckled, feeling more than a little relieved. "I won't say it in public, if that's any consolation."

Chloe leaned back against him. "W-Was that all?" she asked, suddenly sounding shy.

"No," Senel said softly. Well, no going back now. He felt himself suddenly feeling shy, too. Sure, he had said something like this in the past, but it had always been a response to Chloe first saying it. This would be the first time he would make such an admission on his own. Suddenly, Norma's voice sounded in his head: You've already made poor C wait for your sorry butt...

He cleared his throat. "My love," he said barely above a whisper.

Chloe turned to face him, her eyes shining. Senel suddenly became that much more aware of their surroundings; the gentle sound of the waves crashing against the cliff-side, the cool moist breeze, the bright stars and crescent moon above them, the sounds of laughter in the reception hall.

"Senel..."

Her voice tugged him forward and his lips quickly found hers.

After a moment she pulled away and said, "I think that's a name that fits both of us."

...xXx...

Xonel: Gah! Ultra cheesy and not my best work in my opinion. Hopefully its not as bad as I think it is.

Reviews are always appreciated, but whether you leave one or not, thank you for reading! :)