Once, when emptying his shoes of sand, Kwame had asked Gi why she liked the beach so much.
She had shrugged and looked out over the coastline of Hope Island with a smile on her face. “Beaches are special,” she had said. “They're where the water meets the earth.”
And he had smiled at that and said he had never thought of it that way. “When I think of earth and water mixing, I think of mud,” he had admitted.
She had laughed and smiled at him. “It doesn't always end in mud,” she'd said, and she'd motioned towards the beach and he had felt the tiniest thrill race up his spine as something deeper and heavier than their conversation occurred to him. “Sometimes it's beautiful and inspiring.”
“Sometimes,” he had agreed, and he had watched her walk away from him, her hair still ocean-damp against the back of her neck, and he couldn't help but think that the ingredients for a very muddy mess were right there in front of him.
Occasionally, Wheeler and Linka would combine their Planeteer powers to create a powerful blowtorch. Flames would race outwards, billowed by the wind, and a roar of intense heat would sound through the air.
It was a little like Wheeler and Linka themselves – unpredictable and blustery; violently passionate and loud.
When Kwame thought about combining his power with Gi's, he found himself feeling a little disheartened. Water and Earth rarely mixed well together.
He often wondered why this bothered him so much.
Sometimes he thought he had it all figured out. He always told himself to stop being so stupid.
When he'd caught Gi dawdling in the rain, trailing her bare toes through the wet grass and flicking clear drops from the ends of her fingers, Kwame had asked her why she wasn't running for cover.
“A little rain won't hurt me,” she had said, tilting her face to the sky.
Kwame had blinked the rain from his lashes, his desire for shelter becoming secondary to the pleasure of watching the rain run down the pale length of Gi's neck.
“Don't you think it's amazing,” she had said dreamily, half to herself, “That water falls from the sky and rises from the earth? It meets itself halfway.”
Kwame had thought then that Gi had a way of making the most uncomfortable moments quite pleasant.
Water, he had thought, is incredible.
On a late trip back from a Planeteer mission, with the stars growing brighter above them and the sea below them vast and black, Kwame had turned to Gi, who was sitting in the co-pilot's seat beside him.
“You live and breathe your Planeteer powers far more than I do,” he had confessed, feeling somewhat guilty and suddenly unworthy of his ring.
She had smiled at him. “Not really.”
“You find beauty and pleasure in everything to do with water.”
He had looked at her for perhaps a split second too long. “Yes,” he had answered, and there had been an ache in his throat.
She had smiled back at him and he'd suddenly wondered if she'd seen the secrets in his eyes.
“Earth is pretty incredible too, Kwame,” she'd whispered, the sleep-heavy breath of the other Planeteers filling the silences between her words. “All that time and patience and strength it takes to build a mountain out of a small ridge of dirt or stone? Don't you think that's beautiful?”
He had smiled at her, and his heart had pounded in his chest. “Perhaps.”
“I think it is,” she'd said, and she'd turned back to face the skyline. “I think you have the same sort of patience and strength. I think you live and breathe your Earth power as much as I do my Water.”
He had thought perhaps he should thank her for showing such faith and support after he'd confessed his little insecurity. But she had smiled at him again and he had simply watched her settle back in her seat and close her eyes, the smooth motion of the geo-cruiser eventually lulling her to sleep.
He had stayed awake, his face lit up by the auto-pilot light, and as the mountain peaks of Hope Island came into view, silhouetted against the starry sky, he had wondered how much time and patience it had taken the earth to rise up so tall.
And as he had taken control of the geo-cruiser again and begun their descent, he couldn't help but think that no matter how much time or patience Earth had, Water could always wear it down again.
Gi had appeared when the afternoon seemed its hottest. Kwame's shirt had been damp against his back but he hadn't noticed how thirsty he was until Gi had handed him a bottle of water.
He had thanked her and sat back on his heels to drink it, his eyes running over the long thin rows of seedlings he'd been planting.
“Why don't you do this when it's cooler?” Gi had asked him curiously.
“I had not realised how late it was,” Kwame had admitted, stretching his back and looking up at her. He had watched as she'd stretched out her arm in one clean movement, summoning rain from the humidity-heavy air and showering it lightly over the tiny green trees.
“I thought you would be down at the beach,” he had said then.
Gi had smiled down at him. “It's almost too hot to walk across the sand. I can't believe you're out in the sun doing this. Come inside for a bit.”
When he'd followed her along the path between the taller trees of the forest, watching her bare feet leaving soft prints in the earth, he had remembered a phrase Wheeler had directed at a tall, mini-skirted brunette in New York once.
Now there's a tall drink of water.
He hadn't really understood it at the time, but as he'd followed Gi through the cooler air of the rainforest, he'd begun to think maybe Wheeler had a talent for fitting words to odd little cravings.
Gi had looked embarrassed, trying to wipe the tears from her face without drawing attention to them. They had left clean tracks through the dust on her cheeks.
“I know it hurts,” Kwame had apologised, wringing the cloth free of blood and water. He had touched the cloth to her arm again, trying to clear the wound free of dirt and blood so he could start picking the gravel from her skin.
It had been partly his fault, and guilt sat like a weight in his stomach.
“It's all right,” Gi had said, her voice rather watery. “Just do it.” She had looked away as he'd used a pair of tweezers to pick the bigger pieces of gravel from her skin. Blood had welled to the surface.
“Could you get me some fresh water?” he had asked, emptying the dish into the dirt and holding it towards her.
She had obliged quietly, crystal-clear water filling the bowl and then turning cloudy as Kwame poured more antiseptic into it.
The water had slowly turned muddy brown – with dirt and blood – as he'd finished bathing the wound on her arm.
“Do you think it'll scar?” she'd asked. “Am I allowed to be that superficial?”
He had laughed in surprise and caught her eye. “I think it will scab and heal quite neatly.”
She'd smiled at him and then watched him finish clearing her skin of dirt and gravel.
“I wouldn't trust anyone else to do this,” she had said to him, and the words had glowed like little gems between them.
Kwame was a strong swimmer, but Gi was nimble and light in the water. She could twist and turn in sharp, quick little movements, and sometimes she held her breath so long he feared for her.
She had laughed when he'd dove down looking for her one cloudy afternoon. They had both surfaced, breathless, but she had smiled and giggled and splashed him lightly.
For a moment his concern had threatened to turn into anger. He had been incredibly worried.
But it was hard to stay mad at someone with such a clear, bubbly laugh and dew-bright eyes. He had let his toes touch the sandy ocean floor.
“It worries me when you do that,” he had confessed.
She'd smiled. “I know.”
Part of him had wanted to resent her a little for worrying him so purposefully.
But she'd blinked her wet lashes at him. “I'm sorry,” she'd said. “I'll stop doing it, if you want.”
“No,” he had said, and he was relieved he had said it, because she'd smiled that wide smile at him again.
“You should let go, now and then,” Gi had said, her toes rising out of the water as she floated by him on her back. “You don't have to be so grounded all the time.”
He had glanced at the ring on his finger, and small smile had crossed his face. “Yes I do.”
And as he'd watched her float by him, it felt as though he were sinking, being pulled back down to Earth.
It was the wine making him feel like this, he had decided. He wasn't used to drinking wine, but Wheeler had been refilling his glass when it reached half empty, and he'd probably consumed more than he'd thought.
Gi had giggled at him knowingly, and that had been enough to set the grin on his face.
He had followed her to the porch and she had held her hand to her head, swaying slightly towards him. “I think I need some water,” she'd breathed.
And he had nodded, and it had been the wine, definitely the wine, because he'd said, “I need a little water too.” And he had breathed the word
so heavily, she had to have known what he'd meant.
“Just,” she'd sighed, reaching for him, her fingers curling into his shoulders, “Steady.” She blinked up at him and the moon shone on her skin. “Steady, Kwame.”
Steady Kwame. Steady like a rock; always.
“What do you get when you mix Earth and Water?” he had whispered. “Mud?”
“A little mud won't hurt us,” she had assured him. Smiling.
He had kissed her then, just softly, and she had tasted not of water but of wine. But the way she'd moved her arms around him was fluid and smooth, and he had felt himself turning from rock into something much more relaxed. Something malleable.
Something that fit them both.