*Rise of the Guardians (c) Dreamworks.

It should be over in a few seconds. If he was fast enough, if he paid close enough attention. A flickering blur in the corner of his vision made him turn, dreamsand whips flaring with brilliant light; but they were coming around too slowly, the wide arch leaving him horribly vulnerable for a few, fleeting seconds, which was all it took.

His breath stilled in his lungs as the blur was suddenly before him, trapping his wrist and twisting, his sand scattering as he lost his grip, and there was a knee in his midsection, jostling his balance in mid-air off-kilter, and he stumbled, fingers diving through his sand, slashing it toward his opponent. The soft, golden blade missed its mark, deflected easily in the shades of a prism, and he had no time to attempt another attack, and he was plunging downward, the rush of cold air roaring around his ears, grip on his shoulders so sudden, so strong. It was more sudden that they left him, and the sea collided with his back and pulled him in.

She was faster than him.

The water around him was bright and clear, when he opened his eyes, all his movements slowed and silent, giving him a short time to reflect on his recent shortcomings. The surface glimmered only a few feet above him, the disturbance of his impact quickly swept away by the rhythm of the waves, and above it, a cloudless sky. Golden dreamsand trailed from him as he righted himself, bringing his arms to his sides and shooting up, racing the bubbles of his breath toward daylight.

Sandy broke the surface, the taste of salt on his lips as he gasped in the briny sea air, waves jostling him gently as he looked skyward.

"Sandy, are you okay?!" Toothiana plunged toward him, halting before her toes touched the water, looking worried as he hovered over him, "I'm sorry! You're not hurt, are you?"

Sandy grinned, shaking his head.

"Come on- let's get you up and dry, I don't want you getting sick," she stooped, in her flight, offering her hands to him.

North and Bunnymund were ashore waiting for them when they emerged from the surf, Bunnymund careful to avoid the water and North grinning brashly as he trudged out to meet them, "Good run!" North congratulated them both.

Sand was shifting off of Sandy as very fine mud, losing the shine of gold as it left him, as he strode up the shore, shaking water from his ears. With a quick flick of his wrist, sun-warmed sand wrapped around him, drying him as it shimmered and turned to gold.

Toothiana found her footing on dry land beside him, "It could have been better. The moisture in the air makes my feathers heavier," indeed, she appeared short of breath, and flared the feathers on her body every now and again to let the heat of the beach dry them.

"Sandy got trashed," North chided, smug grin on his face.

Bunnymund only glanced up at him, before shaking his head, "She lost, mate."

North paused, looking between them, as Sandy delved into his ear with his pinky, drying out the last of the ocean water, "Eh?"

Toothiana looked embarrassed, "It's true. Sandy was pulling his punches. I may have downed him, but if that sand blade had been at full strength, I don't think it would have turned out the same."

North frowned, turning to Sanderson, "Sandy, the point of sparring is to prepare us for bad situations. You can't keep going easy on us, we'll never be prepared. One hundred percent from you, okay?"

Sandy shrugged a shoulder, patting his sand into place across his front to avoid answering. His thoughts were lost in the flashes of rainbow Toothiana had been, during the battle... he supposed that if he tried, he could put up a decent fight. But the thought of purposely attacking a fellow guardian in an attempt to cause them harm frightened him, and even with North's encouragement and the trust of Tooth and Bunnymund, Sandy knew he would never be comfortable with fighting them.

North had moved on to critiquing Toothiana's technique, and she was patiently nodding sagely at his unneeded advice. Sandy watched them, paying no particular attention to the conversation, his attention drawn to a few grains of golden sand clinging to the turquoise feathers of her cheek. They glimmered as she shifted, smiling and laughing as North waved his sabers instructively, the sand winking in the sunlight of her violet eyes.

Sandy raised a hand, mutely calling the dust to him. The grains left the side of her face, unnoticed by his fellow guardians, twirling past North's shoulder, circling before settling in Sandy's outstretched hand. His fingers closed around them tightly, as he smiled at his fist.

Bunnymund cleared his throat.

Sandy blinked, glancing up at him, momentarily confused. Bunnymund nodded to the sand over Sanderson's head, which had previously been shifting listlessly in his constantly changing thoughts, and had now solidified into a direct shape; that of a heart.

Sandy panicked, immediately scattering the image and recollecting it into the shape of an exclamation point. His face was burning as Bunnymund chuckled, stepping forward to pat his shoulder, "Don't worry, Sandy. She'll figure it out someday."

Sandy grinned back at him shyly.

"AND NOW WE FIGHT!" North suddenly boomed, lunging at the unsuspecting Bunnymund with both sabers, a feisty grin on his face.

Bunnymund leapt aside, leaving Sanderson in North's path of attack, both men tumbling into the sand. North's laughter boomed as he scrambled to his feet, charging at the pooka again, "Not again!" Bunnymund snapped, irritated, still dodging North's attacks, "It's the third time today, mate!"

"Don't hold back!"

"I'm not! You're just annoying!"

"You are afraid I will win again!"

"Again? You haven't won yet! Get away!"

"Guys!" Tooth trilled, frowning, "Look out for Sandy!" She crouched to take Sandy's elbow, helping him to his feet, "Those boys, I swear. Are you okay?"

Sandy nodded, shaking excess sand from his hair. He gave Toothiana a thumbs-up to quell her worry, and she graced him with a smile, "Good." And she rushed off to stop the fray, sand and surf flying in all directions.

Sandy watched her go with a sigh, and slowly opened his hand to gaze at the tiny bit of sand in his palm. He'd return it to her tonight while she slept, but in the last few hours of sunshine, he could hold on to her dreams, if not her heart, a little longer.