Upon waking up in the morning, the second thing that you become aware of is the fact that you're awake. Even before this epiphany has struck you, you're going to experience one of two things: First, there's the universally understood, "Ugh," (unless you're a troll, which has been known to happen). Another far less common sensation upon waking up, though, is a sense of immense, indefinable peace. Even if you're lucky enough to experience this, reality typically comes crashing in and the illusion is shattered. However, there are rare occasions when, instead of crashing, reality comes soaring in like an eagle, and the joy of the reality of it all is more fantastic than the feelings evoked by any song. Like that perfect Christmas or, in our case, that moment you really know you're in love.

It was for this reason that Sophie continued to lay with her head on Conall's chest, eyes closed, marveling at his heartbeat. Fingers ran through her hair, and she sighed. But the hand abruptly withdrew and she looked up into Conall's face. "Why'd you stop?"

"Because you looked hungry," he replied simply.

So Sophie went to her room and took another shower. It helped her think. After she'd covered herself with more soap than was probably practical to use in a week, she pressed her back against the wall and slowly slid down to sit on the shower floor, allowing the water to run over her. She'd dreamed about him last night, the boy who'd been next to her. She didn't pleasure herself regularly, hardly ever, but now she allowed her hand to slide down and absentmindedly indulged for a moment while she thought.

Why wasn't he picking up on any of her cues? Was he as relationally ignorant as she was? It was entirely possible, but surely not all there was to it. He'd as good as told her the evening before that it wasn't because he was all business, meaninglessly charged with the absurd task of caring for a confused, occasionally depressed teenage girl with more power than she knew how to control. Was it that she was too young for him? Seventeen and nineteen hardly seemed unreasonable. Was he just one of those chivalrous romantics who were reluctant to take a girl's virginity? No, this wasn't about sex, though the thought did excite her. Maybe there was someone from his past. She certainly didn't know much about it.

Soon the subject of her thoughts shifted the object of their focus called for breakfast, though for the life of her she still couldn't figure out how he got the food, especially considering that he couldn't cook to save his life, as she'd learned the messy way when she once asked him to crack an egg for her.

By now she'd already admitted to herself that there was no way she'd get off on just a few of her own fingers in this present mindset, so she rinsed off, pulled on a skirt for a change of pace (she'd mostly worn pants since they'd started training about a week into her stay there), and finally a sheer tank top that exposed just a little midriff every other time she moved, with nothing underneath it but a plain bra that she hoped looked cute with her white shirt as opposed to slutty. Just because she was in a flirty mood didn't mean that she was about to prostitute herself to him.

"I thought I heard the shower, but it hardly looks like you've changed," he chuckled upon seeing her.

After he joined her on the couch—it was more comfortable to eat there than at the table—she allowed herself one bite before setting her plate down and shattering the ice. "Why have you been ignoring everything I've done the past couple days?" He looked confused, but seemed to catch on as she continued. "Do you see me as like a little sister or something, or is there someone from your past that you're not over, or is there just something wrong with me that makes me great as a friend, but totally bunk for anything else?"

"Nothing is wrong with you," he stated firmly. She didn't say anything, so he sat his plate down and continued. "I haven't had as good a friend as you in almost as long as I can remember, but I—I suppose I could see you as something else too…" his voice trailed off.

Sophie took each of his hands in both of her much smaller ones and asked the last thing that, right then, she thought she'd ever care to know. "Then why haven't you done anything?"

"Because," he said slowly, "the fact of the matter is that I am here to protect you, and it wouldn't be right for me to, you know, act on my feelings for you unless I knew for a fact that they're mutual."

"And do the Aye's have it? Because I've been trying to get your attention for days."

"In that case, Sophie Newman, I suppose I do have it," and with that, he kissed her. It wasn't like the little peck on the cheek that she'd given him either, but full fledged mouth-to-mouth, his lips pressing firmly against hers.

"That felt amazing," she whispered. "Can we do it again?"Holding onto him tightly, she pulled her legs up onto the couch and dexterously worked one leg at a time around his waist. This time she tried opening her mouth a few seconds into the kiss, and as he followed suit, she felt that she was being whisked away. Of course, it would be more accurate to say that she'd whisked herself away, having practically climbed on top of him, because despite something small in the corner of her mind objecting to the speed that they were progressing at—a part that normally would have abhorred such a thought except in her private fantasies—she'd never experienced such a compulsive urge before, and didn't even know how to begin to resist.

That is, until a huge bang shook the cabin. An intimidating figure stood in the middle of the room, nearly seven feet tall and with nearly as many muscles as Mars Ultor had had in his prime. A smell like all the glory of the sea pervaded her nostrils. "You have to take her; we'll lead them away from this place!"

Despite the trident and the resemblance, it was immediately evident to Sophie that this was not Nereus, even viewing him upside down. Startled, she had half fallen off of the couch. She felt immediately dizzy as strong arms heaved her up and she realized that she was again on her feet.

"Hold on!" Conall ordered, pulling her so tightly to him that she felt tears of pain welling up in her eyes as the other hand belonging to the lips she'd just kissed reached for and grasped the shaft of the gleaming bronze trident. Then everything turned blue. The three auras swirled around their owners in an all-consuming vortex. Amidst the vast blue of the newcomer's aura, Conall's dark red looked like blood swirling in a whirlpool, with Sophie's silvery light bathing everything like moonlight.


"Trigger your aura, Silver."

White sand gave beneath her as a wave shoved her face first into it. Another larger one pelted her with sharp chunks of coral.

"Sophie, your aura!" She recognized that as Conall's voice, though it sounded distant through the water in her ears. She was about to push the water away from herself when she remembered what the Flamels had told her about monsters being able to follow your aura.

"Wait, why?"

"No time for questions. Now!" the stranger bellowed. He banged the butt of his weapon into the ground and Sophie's scent of vanilla almost entirely drowned out the smell of the sea, her aura having been involuntarily and forcibly triggered. A soul-rending screech answered, followed by another, and then another. Sophie sent the water flying off of her in every which way as she tried to gain her bearings.

She, Conall, and the man with the trident stood on a beach as a sickly dark mist quickly approached them from somewhere on the horizon. Both men's auras had manifested into full body armor, and Sophie got the hint, focusing her aura likewise.

"If she doesn't fight with us, then why bother fighting for her?"

"Have it your way, Poseidon," Conall said, and Sophie assumed she must have missed a previous exchange. As the black mist began to solidify into several distinct figures before them, he added in an undertone, "But I should warn you, she's a loose cannon."