Title - Aerials II (Part One is here)
Pairings - same as before, now with Finn/Junko as well.
Aerials II – Thermals
I am the one winged bird for flying
Sinking quickly to the ground
See your faith in me subsiding
See you prime for giving in
I give you all that I am
—“All That I Am” By Rob Thomas
There's a power when you're near me
In our heads or in our bones
I know nothing but I'm guessing
When we die we're not alone
—“Not Only Human” by Heather Nova
Three months, four days, six hours and fifteen minutes.
He was never about details (except when he was in prison of course), but in this new life, he’s been more than simply meticulous. He rose from his bed in the early hours of the morning and pulled back the curtains. He could see the reflection of the bonding crystal on the window and gingerly touched it reluctantly. Aerrow had never activated it since that night and he’s never been given a reason to. Aerrow sets a few ground rules and as long as he follows them (and even when he doesn’t, Aerrow lets him be) the Bonding crystal posed no threat.
He turned away from the window and went to the door entrance. Aerrow’s bed was already empty, he knew. The teen woke up early every morning for a morning jog (which was part of the Sky Knight training) and then he flew away on his Skimmer. He believed that Aerrow visited Radarr’s grave site (which was the same as the previous Storm Hawks) and then simply flew loops or threaded through Window’s Canyon. He had no way of knowing.
After his nightly confession, Aerrow had changed. The youth had regained his vitality and happiness. That night had removed all his previous, dark compulsions. He paused as he saw the Skimmer in the sky, gliding like a bird. He leaned against the doorway, a slow appreciative smile for the youth’s aerial acrobatics appearing on his face. A few minutes later, Aerrow had safely stowed his bike back in the garage and his face was bursting in smiles, “Man, what a rush! There was a storm at the north side of Terra Mesa today and it nearly got me! That was so neat.”
“I see,” Rook said in a bored voice, tossing him a towel, “What kind of storm was it?”
“I think it was close to a Blizzarine?” Aerrow said, gratefully wiping his face, “Not quite as bad though. But those winds!” he exhaled happily.
The Dark Ace lightly bopped him on the head, “Even I have more sense than you sometimes. Why didn’t you fly away?”
“Because it was fun!”
“Your idea of fun disturbs me because it borders on suicidal.”
“You have no sense of adventure,” Aerrow grumbled, flinging the towel over his shoulder. He handed a package to the Dark Ace.
“I managed to pick up some breakfast in Terra Mesa,” Aerrow said, “We won’t be having same old porridge today.”
“What a relief,” he all but clung onto the package, “At least your outings are useful.”
“You could always come with me, Rook,” and his eyes reflected his seriousness, “I’ve told you this.”
The Dark Ace paused. The wind whistled through the open door like a hungry ghost. Aerrow stood there, his posture belaying his impatience for an answer.
“Not today,” he finally muttered, “The breakfast you got will get cold.”
Aerrow frowned before relaxing, “Oh fine. It’s always about your stomach isn’t it?”
“I recall your porridge being a weapon against us back in the day,” How odd to say that phrase. He hadn’t realized that he could talk about past things so soon.
Aerrow laughed and thumped him on the back, “It was Finn’s turn to cook that day. Not mine. Try again next time.”
Dark Ace muttered “a likely story” from under his breath as they both retreated into the house.
As so, the days pass on.
“Finn! Junko!” Aerrow clasped their hands tightly, “I wasn’t expecting you guys!”
“Well, what can we say? We were in the neighbourhood and of course, yours truly needed to grace you with my presence,” Finn said vainly, running a smooth hand through his hair. His hands immediately relaxed into their normal “chicka-cha” position and Aerrow didn’t bother suppressing the wide, happy grin. Junko had enveloped him in a bone-crushing hug before letting go. They had both looked the same, except Junko had gotten bigger (he didn’t think that was possible) and Finn’s scar on his left cheek hadn’t quite faded yet (the aftermath with his battle against Repton. That scar saved his life).
The Dark Ace lingered in the background like he always did when Aerrow’s acquaintances popped in for visits. Aerrow had never forced him to sit down with them, instinctively knowing that he would be uncomfortable and completely out of his element. However, when they left, Aerrow always shot him disappointed looks as if he expected more. Which he shouldn’t, really, because he was the Dark Ace. And the Dark Ace didn’t accommodate Sky Knights.
This wasn’t like those other times, though. These were Storm Hawks.
“So, Aerrow,” Finn said casually, shooting Dark Ace furtive looks, “How have you been holding up with Mister Doom and Gloom?”
Aerrow sensed impending danger, “We’ve been fine, Finn. Really.”
“We? That’s interesting,” Finn leaned against Junko’s shoulder, “You guys have been getting along well?”
“Hey, Dark Ace! Come sit here with us!” Finn’s grin was positively evil with happiness.
He shot a glare to Aerrow who shrugged helplessly and said, “Come sit, Rook.”
“Yeah, um, Book! Join us!”
“It’s Rook,” he finally spat out, sitting next to Aerrow.
Junko smiled simply, “You look really good Aerrow! Last time, you didn’t look so well.”
Aerrow uneasily scratched his neck (he noted that the teen had a habit of scratching his neck, head and arm during times of stress or worry), “Thanks Junko. How’s Tropica?”
“Same as always bro. Sunny, shiny and full of babes as far as the eye can see,” said Finn and he smirked, “And I can see pretty far.”
“Finn,” Junko said quietly, causing the more hyperactive teen to fall silent.
Finn shrugged morosely (though his eyes were twinkling with mischief), “Junko! Babe, I love you, but can’t I ogle? Just a little?”
Aerrow smirked, “Be good Finn or no more foot-rubs.”
“He wouldn’t!” but Finn’s face fell when he saw the semi-devious look on Junko’s face, “….Would you?”
Junko smiled and flicked Finn gently, “Just ogling right?”
Finn grinned, “I knew you’d see things my way, babe.”
“It’s really good to see you guys again,” Aerrow said leaning back, “Any word on Stork?”
At the mention of Stork’s name, the other two fell silent. Aerrow frowned, “What?”
“Well, y’see, Stork is kinda the reason we’re here,” Finn said, fidgeting slightly and looked at Junko, “Are you telling him or am I?”
Junko’s eyes softened, “He found her. Piper and Master Cyclonis’ bodies. He’s on his way here, but he sent us ahead of time.”
Aerrow’s mouth went dry, “H-How?” he said hoarsely, “They fell into the Wastelands! I saw them fall!”
“I know. We were there, remember?” Finn replied in a dead-pan, “But Stork took the Condor and just kept. Scouting the place out.”
“Stork scouted the Wastelands?!” Aerrow repeated in disbelief, “The same Stork who couldn’t approach a bug without thinking of some terminal disease?!”
“Death brings a lot out of other people,” Junko said softly, “You should know that.”
Aerrow leaned back, suitably chastened. Finn picked this moment to continue, “Anyway! He’ll be here soon, be nice and um. Yeah. That’s it. Anything else, babe?”
“Uh, I think that’s it Finn,” Junko replied, smiling, “You’ll take care Aerrow right?” the Dark Ace frowned
Aerrow blinked, “Uh, sure, Junko. See you guys later.”
Finn winked. They left quietly enough, the background noise fading to silence. Dark Ace watched as a myriad of emotions played on Aerrow’s face. Aerrow was genuinely scared of something. The Dark Ace looked away and thought of Junko’s parting line.
“You’ll take care Aerrow right?”
He hadn’t been looking at Aerrow when he said that. Junko had been looking at him.
Aerrow had been staring off into space. It was not something he did often. Scratch that, it was something he never did, but Finn and Junko’s visit had caused him to lapse in and out of thought. Stork.
He hadn’t seen Stork since the destruction of Cyclonia. He took the Condor and flew off when he dropped them back on Terra Atmosia. Aerrow never saw fit to question what was going on through Stork’s mind. Aerrow’s mind had still been nothing but one whirlwind after another. But what was Stork thinking? Why had Stork spent all this time on his own looking for Piper’s body? Did he love her? Was this penance of some sort? He ran a tense hand through his hair. He had never once doubted Stork’s loyalty to the Storm Hawks and he left the Condor to Stork because more than anything, Stork had loved that ship and Aerrow wouldn’t take that away.
He couldn’t wrap his brain over any of it. Aerrow turned around and nearly ran straight into the Dark Ace. Rook immediately placed his hands on Aerrow’s shoulders to keep him from falling over.
“I, uh. Sorry about that,” Aerrow said, brushing off Rook’s hands, his face burning in shame from his lack of focus.
“Thinking too hard, huh?” the Dark Ace said, not perturbed in the least and not moving his hands, “You’ve never been like this before.”
Aerrow gave a half-hearted smile, “I think you know me too well now,” he paused and looked away, “I should have done what he did. I should have looked for her too.”
“Is that right,” and Rook gave him a disbelieving look, “And what would you have achieved?”
“I dunno, something! She was my friend! She was a Storm Hawk!” Aerrow yelled, removing the Dark Ace’s hold on his shoulders.
“Was she? I thought she betrayed you. Did you believe her? Or did you believe your own pride?” and it was not Rook that Aerrow saw, but the old Dark Ace staring down on him.
“Get away!” Aerrow pushed him away, but the Dark Ace grabbed him and twisted his arm behind his back. Aerrow let out a hiss of pain and he felt the Dark Ace’s voice near his right ear, “Face it, Aerrow. You hated her. You would have killed her yourself for tarnishing the Storm Hawks, for tarnishing you.”
“Shut up. I—,”
“You made an oath. It’s your duty to protect Atmos. Even from your best friend,” and the Dark Ace spun him around and grabbed his neck. Aerrow choked and struggled, “Admit it.”
Aerrow stopped struggling and looked at the Dark Ace. His eyes softened, “She was my best friend. I made an oath that I’d put my team first above all else. Even now.”
The Dark Ace froze and his grip slackened. This gave Aerrow enough leeway to escape his grip and force the Dark Ace on the floor. He stood there in silence as the Dark Ace got on his feet. Aerrow began to walk away, but again, a firm grip on his hand made him stop. He turned to shout at the Dark Ace, but it died in mid-protest when he saw his face.
Aerrow didn’t say anything.
“You disgust me,” the Dark Ace said, letting go, “Even I know how to live better than you.”
He strode off darkly, knowing that Aerrow’s eyes were following him. He didn’t care. He needed the peace of his room. It was only in the deep hours of the night that Rook realized that Aerrow had not once activated the Bonding Crystal.
They hadn’t talked in a week. Aerrow saw fit to leave the house early in the morning and come back late. The Dark Ace hadn’t bothered waiting for him. But the silence was driving them mad and they knew it. But neither one was prepared to make that step forward. It was a good thing that Stork arrived when he did.
“I could hear a pin drop in this place and not be surprised,” Stork said in his normal caustic manner.
“Stork,” Aerrow said uneasily, but with a smile on his face, “How’ve you been buddy?”
“Better than you, I suppose. Though I did nearly develop this Hydranian rash on my neck and there was this plague of scorpion flies going around back on Atmosia….” Stork stopped when he realized he was rambling and shrugged, “So. Uh. What’s new with you?”
“Nothing much Stork,” Aerrow shot a glance at the Dark Ace, “Finn said you—,”
“Aerrow,” and Stork was serious, “Before that, why is the Dark Ace glaring at me from across the kitchen? In fact, why is he here at all?!”
“The Council passed him onto me.”
“I see,” Stork surveyed the man carefully, “He hasn’t…infected you with anything, has he? Prison has some terrible, terrible diseases, y’know.”
Aerrow recalled their fight and deflated slightly, “I don’t think so Stork.” Though you may be closer to the truth than you think.
“You sure? Prison has several types of scurvy and—,”
“I’m sure, Stork.” Aerrow said patiently, a slow smile appearing on his face. Stork hadn’t changed at all. This relieved him.
“Good, good,” Stork idly scratched his arm in discomfort, “I’m sure Finn and Junko have told you why I came here.”
Aerrow flinched and looked away, “Ah, yeah, they did.”
Stork gave the Dark Ace a side-long look, “Maybe we should talk in private.”
Aerrow and Stork froze. The Dark Ace stepped forward, looking just as imposing as he had before. He stopped in front of Stork and asked, “Did you keep Master Cyclonis’ body?”
Stork nodded, “Didn’t seem right to separate them.”
The Dark Ace nodded quietly and retreated back into the kitchen. Aerrow watched him fade away and turned back to Stork, “What is it?”
“Aerrow, what are you going to do with her?”
“I don’t understand,” Aerrow’s brow furrowed, “What do you mean?”
“Do you still hate her?”
“Face it, Aerrow. You hated her. You would have killed her yourself for tarnishing the Storm Hawks, for tarnishing you.”
Aerrow froze. Rook’s words rattled in his brain like ghostly chains.
Maybe I did hate her. Was I ever that petty?
I’m a Sky Knight.
I was that petty.
“Aerrow?” Stork frowned, “You okay?”
Aerrow sucked in a deep breath, “I’m fine, Stork,” he hesitated, “Why did you do it?”
“Do what?” Stork looked away as if the windows had suddenly developed an interesting type of fungus.
“Why did you look for me? For what reason?” Aerrow looked at his hands as if the question burned him with shame, “I don’t understand.”
“Oh,” Stork scratched his chin, “I thought it was kind of obvious. I did it for you.”
“Yeah, um,” Stork fidgeted as he spoke, “You didn’t realize what you looked like after that battle, when you, er, I mean, when we saw her die. You looked like a man with Frizarian cancer with bog fever and the mumps. Like death warmed over,” he paused and said softly, “I was so sure that you died that day. So I went looking for her. I thought she could bring you back.”
“S-Stork,” and Aerrow felt like shattered glass.
“I didn’t want to lose two of my best friends in one day,” Stork continued, his tone whimsical, “So I searched. But you changed before I came back. Haven’t you?”
Aerrow didn’t say anything, the feeling between them too fatalistic to break. He looked beyond Stork and out the window, where the sky had killed the blue into black.
“Yeah,” he said finally, choking on his own words, “I think I’m a bit better now.”
He was knocking on his door.
Aerrow never knocked.
“Can I come in?” came the tentative question.
The Dark Ace paused before opening the door. Aerrow cautiously came in and went to the other side of the room. Rook stared at his back curiously. After Stork left, the house had been more than unearthly quiet as if a pindrop could crash the world into oblivion.
“What do you want?” he said impatiently. Their dilly-dallying over their fight was driving him insane and this new contemplative silence was more than he could bear.
“You were right,” Aerrow said quietly, “I don’t know how to live on my own, by myself. I always had someone. I had Radarr. I had Piper. I had my team. But those days are done.”
He turned around and the Dark Ace met his honest, defiant glance. He could see the fears boiling over his face, but his eyes kept him steady.
“And here we are,” the Dark Ace said mockingly, “This is the worst apology I’ve heard.”
“You’re the same, right?” Aerrow retorted, eyes flashing, “Just like me. You couldn’t live without her.”
The Dark Ace went still, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he hissed.
“Enlighten me,” Aerrow replied smoothly.
The Dark Ace prowled around the room like a caged animal, “The title: Dark Ace is passed down through family, just like the title: Master Cyclonis. I was the eldest son, she was the youngest daughter. I was raised to protect her and only her. She was taught to rely on me and only me. We were symbiotic, linked for life,” he paused and added with a tinge of bitterness, “like destiny. I never wanted more. I still don’t. But here I am.”
“And here we are,” Aerrow tasted ash on his mouth, “Linked and symbiotic.”
“I don’t need you,” spat the Dark Ace, “I don’t need anyone.”
Aerrow smirked, “You’ve become such a bad liar.”
The Dark Ace growled and lunged for him. Aerrow was prepared this time and grabbed his hand before he could touch him. The room was filled with the noise of Dark Ace’s harrowed breathing.
“I’m not a Sky Knight anymore,” Aerrow whispered, finally letting him go, “I’ll take off your collar. You’re free to go wherever you want.”
He couldn’t believe it, “You’re lying.”
Aerrow shook his head, “It was never right to begin with. Give me your collar and you can go.”
“Just like that? No ploy, no vendetta? Why?”
“You said it yourself. You don’t need anyone,” Aerrow was deadly serious, “If you can live like that, you can go. I won’t stop you. I won’t report you.”
“Why?” and the Dark Ace’s voice hovered into uncertainty, “Why are you doing this?”
Aerrow paused and gently reached out for the Dark Ace’s shoulder. His grip was fragile as if he expected the Dark Ace to bolt.
“Because I once was a Sky Knight,” Aerrow said, “And I remembered how to do the right thing.”
“Aerrow, what are you going to do when we’re done?” Piper asked.
Aerrow blinked, “Where did that question come from?”
"“Well, we can’t be Sky Knights forever y’know, you got to think about the future as well,” Piper said enthusiastically.
“That’s a long way away, Piper,” Aerrow reminded her good-naturedly, “I mean, we haven’t beaten the Cyclonians yet.”
Piper frowned, “C’mon Aerrow, you must have thought at least once what our future is going to be like. Haven’t you?”
Aerrow frowned and picked at his daggers, “I guess we would all end up in Tropica, living on the beach all day.”
“You got that one from Finn. What’s your dream, Aerrow?”
She was earnest now, her brow creasing in worry for him. He paused and unsheathed his daggers, feeling the cool metal bite into his gloved hands.
“To be together,” Aerrow said, “That’s all I want.”
It had been two days since the Dark Ace left. Aerrow hadn’t left the house since then, wandering around like a lost ghost. His house had always felt like bare bones to him, but now it felt even emptier than before. He hadn’t counted on missing Rook. But he was. He didn’t regret what he did. He still felt it was the right thing to do. He hadn’t counted on it being the lonely option.
He found himself, gazing at the sky, hoping to see some signs of his Skimmer out there. It was wishful thinking, he knew. But the doubt lingering in the Dark Ace’s eyes gave him hope. Aerrow ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
Like a lovesick fool, he thought, except I’m not in love and I’m not sick.
He frowned at his train of thought and retreated back into the house. He couldn’t look at the blank skies without withering slightly inside.
“That’s it,” Master Cyclonis snapped, “I quit. I’m tired of this whole take-over-the-world business.”
“It’s not something you can quit, Master,” the Dark Ace said idly, cleaning his sword, knowing that she was in one of her fey moods, “Your father wouldn’t be happy.”
Master Cyclonis gave him a deathly glare, “Don’t quote my father on me. He’s not in charge. I am. Can’t I decide what I want to do for once?!”
“You could try,” the Dark Ace admitted, “But what would you do? You’re not an Atmosian.”
She deflated slightly at this admission and pouted, “It’s so boring here, that’s all,” she whined, “I want to talk to other people.”
“You have me.”
She gave him a weary sidelong look, “Yes, but you tune me out after a while. And I’m not talking to Ravess or Snipe after their last misadventure.”
The Dark Ace smirked. It had been a rather amusing experience.
“I want to see more of this world,” she said petulantly, “Is that too much?”
“No,” the Dark Ace said, “But make it your own world instead.”
“So, here I am,” he said.
He paused. Those words seemed like a mockery right now. Echoes of what Aerrow told him before still haunted him, but he shook himself loose. He bent his knee and looked straight ahead, “I am still your loyal servant. But there’s no Cyclonia to fight for anymore.”
He stopped and bent his head, “No, that wasn’t your goal was it? I’m wrong again.”
He looked up. The grave stared back at him silently. Stork had been true to his word when he said he hadn’t separated them. He hadn’t left an epitaph though. If he had, it would have been defiled by the Atmosians.
“You wanted power. You wanted the destruction of power. You met that end. Where does that leave me?” he barked harshly, “By all rights, I should be dead, like you. With you.”
He stood up and looked at the sky. It was a clear day, good for flying. The winds wafted lazily past him, brushing against his body. He closed his eyes and reopened them. This was costing him. These words meant nothing to her and he knew it. She was beyond hearing them.
He knew that he was no longer the Dark Ace. Her Dark Ace. He chose a name. His own name.
And it was a name she will never utter.
Aerrow yawned. He had been sleeping in lately (he hadn’t felt like flying in ages) and the lethargy was strong in him since Rook left. He hadn’t felt the need to do anything and this frustrated him intensely. He checked the miniature timer by his room and headed towards the kitchen—
—only to see the Dark Ace with some bags on the ground, setting the plates on the table. He stared at him, his mouth hanging open like a gaping fish. The Dark Ace gave him a scornful glance, “I’m not having that awful porridge again. I got some food. Sit.”
Aerrow numbly complied, his eyes not moving away from the Dark Ace’s docile form, “Okay, why are you here?”
“Because you’re hopeless without me,” the Dark Ace replied, dodging the well-timed napkin thrown by Aerrow.
“That’s not a reason,” Aerrow scowled.
The Dark Ace shrugged, “I did a lot of thinking. And well, I didn’t have a lot of options for places to go.”
Aerrow softened slightly, “Your freedom—,”
“I have my freedom. But I don’t want to be free out there,” the Dark Ace interrupted, “When I have my own space right here.”
Aerrow jerked slightly and grinned. Things were looking up again.
Will be posting this in Storm Hawks comm soon. And when I say soon, I mean, probably next month or so. :/