Some things never change.
As he was guiding the Condor trough the skies, Stork couldn't help but snort at his last thought. If that statement wasn't so true, their crew would still have it's sharpshooter. It was just so typical of him – get into a fight, forget about everything and get shot (again, maybe it was a curse after all) and today – get himself lost.
He sighed and slowly shook his head. It was just so… quiet without Finn. Made him think too much.
"Any signs?" worried voice of Aerrow brought Stork back from his musings.
" …No. Nothing." he drawled after checking his instruments for the hundredth time.
"But he must be somewhere around here!" the dark skinned girl exclaimed, never pausing her scouting. She was looking around with the telescope, hoping for any sign of life.
Junko was holding Radarr, nervously biting his lip. It wasn't supposed to end like this…
"This is pointless." Aerrow let go of his telescope. "We were looking for two days straight, guys. And we found nothing."
"No, Piper. I… listen, we tried everything, right? But…"
"Finn almost always crashes in fights, remember? But we always catch him before he falls!" the wallop had tears in his eyes. "And Stork repairs his skimmer and he flies again…"
"…But none of us caught him this time." whispered Piper, her eyes lowered to the ground.
They started debating about possibilities, what if's and so on. Stork muted them out, focusing on piloting the ship. The machinery that was supposed to help them find Finn was silent, no trace of their friend found. Nothing Stork build and invented could help.
He never felt this hopeless before.
When he opened his eyes, he was greeted with darkness. The dull, throbbing pain in his skull intensified when he tried to sit up, only to find out he simply didn't have the strength to do it.
He laid back down and tried to open his eyes. After a while, he gave up and started to wonder where exactly he was, anyway.
The last thing he could remember was Stork… yes, him and Stork were standing on the bridge of the Condor, talking about anything and nothing… Stork was chuckling at some lame joke that he made, then said something about Finn having a 'humor disease' or something… They talked about music… yes, music! Music was when the green merb laughed and everything was good again in that moment…
He groaned when pain ran trough his left arm. Trying to focus once more on his memories, trying to find an answer as to why was he here, in the darkness?... Alone?...
He remembered Stork was stuttering about something, nervously wringing his fingers and… and blushing and then the alarm went off, Aerrow was shouting 'orders'… Piper, Junko and their leader were running to the hangar…
He took Stork's hand (it was warm) and asked him to tell him when he'll get back… and Stork just nodded, still looking at their joined hands and mumbled a 'fly safely' and then Finn was gone on his skimmer…
They were flying, the battle against Cyclonians was raging hard, everything is a blur here… he remembers going after some skimmers, a laugh and a screeching sound of metal, a rush of air, black spots pain pain pain his hand was warm and then…
When he opened his eyes, he was greeted with darkness.
The blonde sharpshooter groaned. He wasn't going to like it.
"Guys, we must decide. Either we look for Finn and risk a Cyclonians attack, or we go to the destined Terra to retrieve the crystal."
Piper and Junko exchanged nervous glances. They both knew that in their current situation they wouldn't hold out a second attack. Their skimmers were partially busted and Condor was nearly fried. Stork refused to leave his instruments in case one of them might catch something, so they haven't done any repairs yet.
But going to Terra meant abandoning Finn…
Piper took a deep breath and looked their leader in the eyes.
"Aerrow, we know that we can't hold trough another attack. Our shields are practically gone, we are all tired or injured in some way… but, Aerrow, Finn is somewhere out there. We can't just…leave him!"
"I know, Piper!" the red head shouted. Everyone froze at his outburst. "I know." He repeated quietly. "But we've searched two whole days and found nothing! Not even a trace…"
Silence descended in the room. The air was full with hopelessness and sadness as they were thinking.
"…So what now?" the wallop broke the tense silence.
They all looked at Aerrow, except for Stork, who was still piloting the Condor. They waited for his decision, his judgment that would seal their choices. It seemed none option was good enough.
In moments like this, he felt like a kid.
"If you think about going to that Terra, I would suggest to try to repair your skimmers, because I'm not moving from here until I'll find one, just one! Stubborn, energetic, chaotic blonde that so happens to be our sharpshooter and friend."
They all looked at Stork in puzzled silence.
"I know, I know it will end up painfully, probably in some kind of deathly disaster but… I think Finn is more important than a crystal, right? …On the other hand… no, no, better not dwell on that!..." the green merb mumbled.
Silence once more descended on the group, as everyone was pondering Stork's words. Piper smiled, seeing their pilot being so eager to find their lost friend.
And hey, if he was up to finding Finn and not giving up, she was with him.
"Alright, Stork. You have some plan?"
"I'm with ya', buddy!" Junko pumped his fist in the air, Radarr gave a cheering sound and Aerrow smiled.
"Getting back Finn it is, then."
Stork gave a relieved chuckle.
He woke up again after some time. It was hard to say how long he was unconscious, or how long was he out here anyway, but when he opened his eyes, it was still dark.
Ignoring the pain in his body, he tried to sit up. His left arm was hurting badly, his head still throbbed and the darkness was still there. He couldn't see anything, not even a glimpse of his own body, his hand, nothing! Even in the Black Gorge he was able to see something… and here…
And then it struck him.
Oh… crud, am… Am I… blind?
He felt an icy chill run up his spine. It couldn't be… he couldn't lose his eyesight, no! He was a sharpshooter, he couldn't aim if he couldn't see! It was his only talent, why did it have to go away?!
He took a deep, shuddering breath.
Calm down, Finn. Gotta' find a way outta here… I'll need my radio, so I need to find my skimmer… or what's left of it.
He felt his way around with his hand. His left arm was hanging limply by his side. He suspected the bone got out of it's socket, but he didn't bother to set it now.
He didn't need anymore pain right now, anyway.
Stork would say that I'm doomed. He smiled at the thought of green merb. I wonder if they are looking for me?... Will they find me here?... Or the more importantly, where the hell IS exactly that 'here'?
He found a solid wall and stood up, holding onto it. Slowly, he made his way along the warm rock, carefully placing his steps.
His energy was draining fast, he felt hot and dirty and he hurt almost everywhere. He felt like he was already walking for hours, every step cautious and unsure. He felt blood running down the side of his head, the wound has reopened itself.
Well, at least it won't bother me that much when it'll get to my eyes. He thought grimly, but then chuckled and shook his head. I'm starting to sound like Stork. In the next minute, I'll start telling myself I'm doomed and stuff.
Then he regretted his head-shaking. It made him dizzy.
Finn felt like he was exposed to sunrays for a very long time. His head swam and his legs felt like they were made of jelly.
Man, I really need some help here!
He stopped for a while, trying to catch some much needed air to his lungs. He panted like a dog, leaning against solid rock. Breathing was now a hard thing to do. Every intake of air made him wheeze and his chest ripple with pain. He tried to calm down his rapidly beating heart and think rationally.
What if I'm going the wrong way?... What if my skimmer crashed somewhere else?...
He chuckled again.
Stork's rubbing off on me. Now I feel like I'm doomed!
He pushed himself upright again, and continued his tedious journey.
The five of them stood in the hangar, Condor on the autopilot for a short amount of time. Stork was working as fast as he could on repairing broken skimmers, wary to leave Finn-finding equipment.
"So, let me get this straight again." Aerrow began, already finishing repairing his skimmer. "We split up, and one party goes for the crystal, while the rest looks for Finn." They nodded. "Who's going where?"
"I want to look for Finn." Piper spoke up first. Junko looked sadly at her. "Sorry big guy, but that Terra is slightly dangerous. I wouldn't want to interrupt a fight…" the wallop smiled slightly.
"It's okay. But who's gonna go with me?"
"I already spoke my ground." The merb hissed, giving his work finishing touches. "Now, if anybody needs me, I'm on the bridge." With those words, he practically run from the room.
"I'll go with Junko. Radarr, jump in." said co-pilot saluted and took his place.
"Is it just me… or Stork is really eager to find Finn?" mused the wallop. Piper chuckled.
"Well, he didn't even speculate about Finn's doom and painful death. Not even once!" Radarr chirped in agreement with the read head.
"Guys, guys. You are so dense sometimes." She said with a knowing smile.
"It's not my place to tell you. But I'm sure you'll catch up soon." They looked at each other. "Have a safe flight!"
As they flew away, her smile slowly slipped.
I hope you'll get a chance to tell him, Stork…
He was walking for eternity.
The hard, rock ground was absorbing heat and in turn, the ground was hot as well. He couldn't hide from it. His head was spinning and he was sure that if he could see, he probably would be seeing stars right now. Or fata-morganas. Whatever.
Storm Hawks' blonde sharpshooter was slowly losing hope. Once in a while he tripped over some rocks, his movements were starting to get heavy and sloppy. He didn't have the energy to move his muscles properly. He was thirsty. Tired. Blind… and all alone.
He knew what that meant.
And once he thought that, he tripped again. He didn't have the will to try and stay upright, so he allowed himself to fall, already imagining his body – a feast for some animals, or just a scorching hot skeleton on hot, rock ground and – THUMP.
He fell on leather.
Startled, Finn hand started to roam the new, strange sensation. Besides the leather he could feel metal – hot, sharp metal and ti – yes, tires and some screws and dents and his crossbow…
He screamed with joy when his hand found the radio handle.
Time to scare Storky. He grinned and pushed the button.
When Piper got to the bridge, Stork was already over his instruments, checking some complicated diagrams and weird looking things. She noted he was more tense then anytime she saw him in a stressing situation.
Well, she suspected the reasons, but she would like to be sure.
"Stork?" she called out softly. The merb was muttering softly to himself, not paying attention to her. "Stork, you're tired. You can't work like this, you have to get some rest."
Piper received no answer. Stork was still muttering to himself, but she caught a few words that sounded suspiciously like 'no time for rest, no time, there's no Finn, no time!'. She sighed.
"Listen to me, Stork. You're not going to help him if you're going to pass out right here! I mean, I know you care about him, but you can't – "
"You don't know!" he cut her off, making her jump slightly. When he finally faced her, she gasped. Stork looked so worn out and tired, but what shocked her more were the tears that glistened in his eyes. "No one knows, no one! One time he is, just the perfect time, and I, I! get the courage – yes, big word for me! – to tell him finally how I feel and he goes and gets himself LOST! It's just so… FINN! So I must find him, tell him, get it off my chest, and THEN – go to sleep." He whispered the last words menacingly and turned to his devices.
For several seconds she was speechless. Then she got her wits again.
"Stork… do you …um, have a crush… on Finn?"
He froze for a moment, his arms falling limply at his sides. The merb shook his head sadly and turned his face to her. His desperation was evident on his worried face.
"It's okay. You don't have to answer. I know."
"…Am I really that obvious?"
"To a girl? Yes." She smiled sadly. He just chuckled and dropped his map. He opened his mouth to say something, when she cut him off. "And if I'm really good at reading your feelings, I think I got Finn figured out too."
The green creature looked at her hopefully. When she smiled at him, he grinned meekly back.
"Now, let's get some work done, so you two can confess your undying love for each other."
Stork was about to respond, when suddenly all his devices went mad as the radio crackled to life.
"Stork?... hey, you there?.. Anyone…can you hear me?..."
It took him another decade to make the radio work.
After his first try, he discovered that the radio was dead. He felt his way around and found some cut cables.
I'm not Storky, but I think I can give it a shot.
He fumbled in the darkness, the metal burning his skin and the wires electrocuting him once in a while. His fingers were cut and burn, but after the fifteenth time, the radio crackled.
He grabbed it quickly and pushed the send button.
"C'mon, Storky, don't leave me hangin'…"
"Stork? Any-crack- there?..."
For a moment they both looked at the control display in awe, like they didn't believe what they were hearing. Stork got from his stupor first and grabbed the radio.
There was a static sound and they held their breaths in anticipation.
"Hiya -crack- rky…"
Piper let out a sigh of relief, while Stork couldn't make a sound. He felt so light in that moment he might actually sing another poem about Finn.
The dark skinned girl took the radio from stunned merb.
"Finn, where are you? Are you alright?"
There was a crack of static and then came a tired voice in response.
"I dunno-crack-. Got-crack-shed on some terr-crack-."
They strained their ears to hear the message better. Stork was looking at the radio like it was some kind of deity.
"You don't know? Well, tell me, what do you see?" she insisted.
"-crack- see, Piper."
"Repeat, didn't catch that."
"I'm blind, Piper!"
When she glanced at Stork, she wasn't surprised to find him as pale as she was. She cleared her throat and put a reassuring hand on Stork's shoulder.
"Okay, don't panic. We're going to get ya out of there." Stork then sprang into action. Pushing various buttons and handles, he grabbed the steering wheel.
"Keep Finn talking, I have to trace his signal, alright? Keep him online, just keep talking, and we'll get him and aaaaaall will be good again!"
"Stork! Calm down, focus on your work. I'll keep Finn online."
"Right, right. Priorities. That's important. Right. Doing my job, just fine, Finn is fine…" he paused in his mutterings. "…is he?"
"Finn, are you alright? Any injuries?"
"I'm good-crack- st a few scratches and stuff-crack-." Came a forced, cheerful reply.
"He's lyyyiiing…" Stork drawled, never pausing in his work. She gave him a look and sighed once more.
"Finn, tell me what's wrong."
"…Just-crack-ome burns and scrat-crack-worst is my eyes, and my left arm-crack-. And I think I hit my –crack-ead. I'm dizzy."
She gulped nervously. Stork glanced at her, then at the radio. He didn't have to say anything, she understood everything perfectly.
They must hurry.
"Hey, Finn, wanna say something nice to Stork? Poor merb is worried sick over you here!" she tried to change the subject, earning a glare from said pilot. Finn chuckled trough the radio.
"Sure-crack-. Don't wanna-crack- poor Storky over me!"
She moved closer to said pilot, who nervously eyed the offered microphone. He swallowed visibly and cleared his throat, while Piper still waited.
There was some static sound, and then…
"Yeah Storky? –crack- s' up?"
"…You do remember when I told you to 'fly safely'?" Stork pointed out something in the horizon to Piper. It was a Terra.
A chuckle from Finn. "-crack-eah, didn't quite do tha-crack-!"
"…You're hopeless." The merb smiled.
"-crack-ve you too, Storky." The merb blinked and blushed, wordlessly handing Piper back the instrument.
Piper took the device back. "Finn, we're going to get you. I need to get to the hangar, okay?"
"Su-crack- not goin' anywhe-crack-." Came the tired response.
She placed the radio on the board and dashed to the hangar. Stork gripped the handle firmly, preparing to land.
Once Piper broke the connection, he allowed himself to slump awkwardly against the burning metal of his vehicle. He was exhausted. He barely kept the conversation going, but he knew Stork needed to track his signal.
His head lolled from side to side. Finn tried to stay awake, random thoughts filling his head and trying to gain his attention – but to no avail.
The last thing he heard, before slipping into unconsciousness was a sound of an ship engine and a feeling of warm wind.
She took her heliscooter and waited for the Condor to land. Once it did, she heard footsteps and in the next moment Stork was sitting right behind her, first aid-kit bag in his hand. The doors opened and she started the engine.
"I've tried to land as close as possible to Finn's location, but we still have to go a while to get him!" the merb hissed, nervously wringing his hands.
"Hang on, then!"
It wasn't that far, in fact. It took them about fifteen minutes to finally find their sharpshooter. Piper smiled with relief once she glimpsed that familiar mop of blonde hair and she felt Stork relax a bit too.
She landed on the ground and dismounted her ride quickly. Stork was already running to Finn, so she tried to catch up.
Once they stood directly in front of him, they froze.
Finn was lying on a rock shelf, his skimmer leaning on edge of a deep canyon. The sun was beaming at the Terra with unforgiving rays, heating the ground and burning skin.
Finn's head was bleeding. He was cut in several places and they noticed that his left arm was hanging awkwardly at his side. Those blue eyes were shut and they knew he was asleep.
"We have to move him." She whispered, afraid that her voice would wake the injured teen.
Stork nodded mutely. They both carefully placed their arms under blonde's limp body and lifted him up, then carefully walked back to the heliscooter.
Piper never mentioned that those green arms were shaking...
"Once we've investigated the Terra, I found out that Finn wasn't the whole time with his skimmer. The… bloody prints he left on the wall showed that he landed at least three miles away from the machine. It was a blessing there was a shadow, otherwise he might have suffered a heat stroke." She paused and ran her eyes over her friends. Aerrow was absently massaging Radarr scalp, while Junko stared at the floor, hating to hear about their friend suffering. Stork stood by the doors, wary to hear anymore. "He was also very lucky to find his way to the vehicle…" she coughed then and shook her head. "Finn also repaired the radio, then contacted us. Went there, got him." She finished lamely.
"And how is he now?"
"We managed to close the wound on his forehead. His left arm was also set back in place – the arm bone went out of its socket. He's patched up and resting right now. He has a slight fever, but nothing we can't handle…"
There was a tense silence. She didn't know how to tell them the worst news.
"…Finn lost his eyesight."
Gasps and disbelieving exclaims followed as the three companions turned to face Stork. Junko stood up and faced the merb.
"But Finn is a sharpshooter, he needs his eyes!"
"Is it permanent?" Aerrow looked at Piper sadly. She shook her head.
"…I… I don't know…" she wiped her eyes. "I've tried, I've tried everything! I really did, but I couldn't… I can't help him…" the girl whispered brokenly. Aerrow got up and embraced her tightly.
"…Can… can we visit Finn?"
"Sure… I'm sure he would like that, once he'll wake up." Piper replied while wiping her eyes clear. Stork pushed himself from the wall.
"Well, I'll go and… watch over him, or something?" at their questioning stares, he added "To make sure he doesn't have any diseases."
The green helmsman opened the door to Finn's room quietly. Their injured friend was currently lying on the bed, wrapped in bandages in several places and with a damp cloth covering his forehead and eyes. He was so still that Stork thought he might be asleep, but then the Domo turned his face in his direction.
Stork felt a pang of sadness at the slight quiver in his normally confident voice. Finn's whole posture was always screaming 'confident'.
But after the whole suffering, would he still be as strong as he used to be?
Stork feared he wouldn't. It would kill them both if he would change. The merb never told anybody, but Finn somehow gave him courage. Be it his aloofness, his stupidity, selfishness or lame jokes – or maybe it was those rare human gestures he made, like asking Stork about his book, even if he didn't give a damn about it, or trying to cheer him up (sometimes forcefully stretching his face to smile) or just… being there.
Being with Finn was like being near a walking sun. You can get burn, but you can also stay warm and safe. It was always hard to miss Finn among others. His personality, his voice, his looks – those eyes, those crystal blue eyes – everything about him demanded attention. And people liked him that way.
Sometimes a little too much. He snorted at the memory of the girls from Vapos.
"…Anyone there?" Stork was pulled back from his musings by Finn's voice. He shook his head and approached slowly.
"…It's only me." He replied, pulling the desk chair closer to the bed. A broad smile spread on the blonde's face and he relaxed visibly. Stork was guiltily glad that he couldn't see his face, which was now flushed crimson.
"Hey, Storky." He chuckled slightly, then lapsed into silence. Stork didn't even comment on the nickname. Maybe he grew accustomed to it or… well, it could be considered a sort of pet name or endearment…he kind of liked that thought.
"…How…" The merb hands twitched at the sight of the crooked cloth on Finn's face. "…how are you feeling, Finn?" He had this weird urge to get it off and replace it with his own hands.
"Sweet, dude. Really sweet." He said it without any sarcasm, which made Stork gape in wonder.
"But… but you…"
"Hey, I'm alive!" He cut in. "And 's not that bad. I mean, hey! I'm not deaf and I can talk, so I can still annoy ya!" He chuckled slightly. "…Besides…" He trailed off.
"Besides?..." He inquired.
"Besides, I promised to talk with ya when I'll return, right? Can't go and break promises." He huffed slightly.
Stork didn't reply. Instead he reached out for the cloth on Finn's head, took it off and replaced it with his hand.
Finn sighed contently, leaning slightly into the touch.
"… You'll read me one of your books sometime, Stork?" He mumbled lazily, nuzzling the warm palm pressed against his forehead.
"…Of course. Not that any of them would interest you."
"S' okay… 'st your voice is fine…" The blonde mumbled once again, slowly surrendering to sleep.
The green figure sat by him the whole time, idly stroking fine, blonde hair, smiling softly.
Two weeks passed since Finn got rescued by his friends. His wounds were almost completely healed, but he still was pretty weak. Most of the time he spend in his room, simply resting, listening to the music or waiting for some company. His friends liked to pop in unexpectedly.
As he was getting used to the darkness, he kept his ears working. Well, as much working as he could, he was only human, after all.
After some days of silently lying in bed, bored out of his mind, waiting for one of his friends to come, he started to notice more things.
Like how he could distinguish Piper light steps from Radarr's scatter. How Aerrow sometimes shuffled feet. Junko's heavy steps were the easiest to recognize, the whole corridor echoed with them. Poor wallop could never sneak up on him.
And then there was Stork. The merb steps were almost stealthy. Finn thought it originated from his paranoia towards everything. But he took great pride in knowing that he could hear Stork's steps. Barely there pitter-patter of three-fingered feet.
Actually, Stork was the one who visited him the most. Reading him books and thus helping him fall asleep easily, or just simply talking – about nothing and everything, silly bickering that was in their nature. Well, complete opposites should bicker, he reasoned.
What confused Finn the most, was the fact that sometimes Stork would struggle to say something, than just sigh and cover his eyes with his hand (something which became some sort of ritual between them), while continuing to read. He fell asleep easier while listening to Stork's smooth voice. Although, the contents of the books were hardly the happiest. Finn now understood why the pilot was so afraid of those Mind Worms.
Two nights ago Finn felt a light kiss pressed against his cheek, while the merb's hand stroked his hair.
He really hoped it wasn't a dream.
Finn was just dozing off when he heard a sound of quick footsteps. They were coming nearer and nearer his room, but that's not what worried him the most.
He couldn't recognize the steps.
The blonde swallowed nervously, fear gripping his chest. Blinded and injured – he wasn't much of a threat. Especially if that was a Cyclonian.
The door opened and he held his breath, gripping the bed mattress. The footsteps paused, then slowly made it's way in until the person stood by Finn's bedside.
He didn't dare to move.
"I heard you were awake. Was your caretaker wrong?" Came an amused voice.
He smiled despite himself when he recognized Starling's rich, heavily accented voice and chuckled slightly.
"Hey, can't blame a guy for fake sleeping when someone unexpected is coming."
"Oh sure." She laughed a little and Finn heard the chair scraping against the floor. She probably sat down next to him, he suspected.
"S'up, Starla?" He grinned at the ceiling, because he still wasn't used to directions. In the darkness everything was the same.
"Everything is fine, Finn. Cyclonians are a little inactive after… well, you know." She trailed off awkwardly.
"After my lovely solo escapade and skimmer blasting?" He laughed and hoped that it would let her feel better too. He was sick of people feeling down because of him.
"Yeah, something like that." She smiled. "Your caretaker explained everything to me. Your fall and your… current condition." Starling paused here, gathering her thoughts. "I was asked for help and I think I can give you one."
"…You'll teach me dots-reading?"
"No, dummy, I'm talking about taking you to the specialist and… and maybe then you can get your eyesight back."
"What?" The purple haired girl recoiled in her seat. "What do you mean 'no'? It's your only chance, Finn! Don't tell me you want to stay blind for ever!"
"That kind of treatment must be expensive. I don't want to burden my friends with such amount of money. Not them, you or anyone else."
"…Don't you think they have a say in that? They want you healed, I want you healed and this ordeal may be the only chance to help you. The longer we wait, the farther is your recovery, Finn." She put her hand on top of his and squeezed it slightly. "Think about it. Please, Finn? I'm staying here for a day. Please think about it." With a final squeeze to his hand, she stood up and made her way to the door.
She turned to face him, but the blonde's face was still turned towards the ceiling. She smiled sadly, knowing he couldn't see her and didn't want to misjudge the direction she was standing at.
"Who was that …'caretaker' that contacted you?..." Her smile broadened.
"Why, Stork, of course."
This time, when she turned to leave, he didn't call her back.
When Starling entered the bridge again, the helmsman immediately turned to face her. She stopped by the lounge and rested her hip against the cushions. Stork eyed her carefully.
"…Did he agree?"
"Not yet." She saw him cringe at those words. "But he assured me he would think about it."
He snorted clenching his fists.
"And wait how long? Every passing hour may be crucial! He shouldn't be so reckless, he should… Gah, that IDIOT!" He threw his arms up, calling the heavens for aid. The purple haired girl chuckled, highly amused.
"I've heard you have a thing for calming him. Maybe he would listen to you, if he isn't keen on anybody else." Stork paused in his ramblings and looked at her. His left eye twitched nervously.
"…M-me? Why m-me?" The girl smiled predatorily and took a few steps towards the merb.
"Because: you're the one that came up with this plan and also the one that he really answers to." She noticed how his face flushed slightly. "Finn is very stubborn and… well, you know. Isn't it worth a try?"
She smiled again and wordlessly made her way to the door. As she was about to leave, she called over her shoulder.
"I'll be in the hangar when he's ready."
Stork shifted uneasily in the familiar chair in Finn's room. The blonde was sleeping and he really didn't want to wake him up, but the matter of Finn's eyesight was pretty urgent.
Stork had read many books. In them he read about diseases with pointless curing, as they were deathly, but sometimes he read a book about actually treatable cases.
In one, he read about curing blindness.
He searched with Piper through the maps and found a Terra. According to his book, there was a very rare crystal known as Healer. Twenty years ago, a certain Sky Knight found one Healer and gave it to the man known as Hermit. That man used the stone to cure his son eyesight, which the boy lost in an accident. Everything worked, fitted perfectly, so Stork told their crew about his discovery. They eagerly agreed to proceed with the plan.
Find the crystal, find the Hermit and cure Finn.
They've contacted the Hermit – Piper went to make arrangements with him two days ago and now they were just waiting for them to find the crystal.
And bring Finn.
Which will be difficult. Because he's stubborn. Stork sighed inwardly.
A groan coming from the bed caught his attention. He was spacing much lately. He really should stop doing that, or it would be his doom.
Finn yawned and stretched. Stork swallowed audibly at the sight, ogling the exposed body of his friend. How much would he give to be able to curl up next to him, feel those human arms wrap around him and snuggle closer until not even sunlight would be able to squeeze in between them and hear the voice whisper sweet nothings in his ear while he would reply with kisses and affection and-
Damn it, spaced out again.
"Yeah, t-that's me. How… how did you know?"
"Well, Piper would've already started chattering, Aerrow would've cracked a joke, Junko would've apologized for waking me up and Radarr would squeak." He paused and smiled at the ceiling. "And you, Storky, would've spaced out."
"…I don't space out that often…" Mumbled the merb defensively. Finn chuckled.
"Call it Happy Place Time or whatever, man. You space out." Another pause. "Lately you space out even more than usual. Something's up you're not tellin' me?"
Stork took a deep intake of breath. Did he figure it out? Was Stork too obvious in his affection? Was he angry?
"N-nothing out of the o-ordinary…" He lied. He knew that. Hell, Finn probably knew that too.
"Tsk, tsk! Storky's keeping a secret from me!" He waggled a finger in general direction. "Not nice, Storky, to lie to a blind man. Very un-merbish."
"…There is an option for you to get treated." He started carefully, changing the subject from their banter.
Finn sighed heavily, turning his face away from Stork. "I know. Starling told me."
"Which brings me here to knock some sense into that stupid adorable blonde head of yours. Why won't you take the treatment? It won't cost us a thing, if that worries you. We just have to get one crystal – one, just one! - to the Hermit and you'll be cured!"
"I don't want to burden you guys, okay? I was a nuisance before, I was annoying and – oooh, no, you can't deny that, you kept on saying to me that on a daily basis! – I was getting us into more trouble than I can count! I just… I never done anything worth for us. And yet you keep on talking to me, even when I'm being a stubborn idiot." He smiled sadly and shook his head slowly. "No. I don't want to be a burden anymore."
Stork gaped openly at the blond. Did he hear it all right?
"…Stork, did you just call my head adorable?"
Starling looked up from her skimmer to the sound of the door opening. She was greeted by a sight of a very self conscious merb, who nervously wringed his fingers, staring at the ground.
"…He w-will take the t-treatment." He stammered, slightly smiling.
Starling smiled broadly and chuckled slightly.
"You, Storm Hawks, never cease to amaze me. I will make sure everything is prepared. We can set out in an hour."
"But… what about the crystal?"
"Aerrow already got it."
She never saw the merb smile this broad.
Starling started the machine slowly. The blonde teen was sitting behind her, his arms firmly planted around her waist for balance. Junko was saying his goodbyes and was wishing Finn good luck.
"Yeah, feel like I'm gonna need all I can get."
Then Stork approached and took Finn's hand with his own trembling one. Finn squeezed it briefly and Stork smiled.
"I would wish you a safe flight… but last time it didn't go that well…" The sharpshooter laughed at that.
"True, but this time it's not me who's piloting, Storky!"
"…So, fly safely."
"Sure thing, Storky."
Watching Finn smile softly gave Stork a pang of something in his heart. Feeling determined, he leaned in to Finn's ear and when he was sure he had the blonde's attention, whispered so none other than him could hear.
"…Come back to me... In one piece, if you'll be so kind?..."
Finn turned slightly in the direction of his voice and smiled, when he felt Stork's long hair tickle his check. He whispered back to the merb.
"Remember what you promised me."
The wallop and merb stood in the hangar long after the little dot of Starling's skimmer disappeared from sight.
Junko knew he wasn't the brightest crayon in the box sometimes, but he knew that when your friends were crying, you ought to offer them a shoulder to cry on.
So when Stork hid his face in his palms and allowed the wallop to pat his back and whisper "everything's gonna be okay, buddy", Junko felt a little bit more proud of himself when the helmsman nodded and muttered "I know."
Two days later, the Condor was being cleaned up by a very happy wallop, who kept singing some catchy tunes (or attempted to sing) and smiling to his thoughts and by a very, very, very nervous merb, who was running wildly around, checking if the most silly things were in order. So they scrubbed and washed and polished and repaired – everything to keep their excited selves occupied.
It was The Big Day.
The rest of their team was finally bringing Finn back. They didn't say any details when they've contacted, but only told the date of their arrival. And thus, the preparation begun.
"Junko! Tell me you didn't throw away that big shiny metal thing from your room?"
"Um, the pipe from Dark Ace's skimmer?"
"No! No, the one you ripped from the Murk Raiders flag ship! I need it now!" wailed the merb.
"Yeah, sure. But we sold it when we were last pit stopping, ya' know? Needed the crystals more than pipes." The wallop allowed himself to grief slightly for the loss of his beloved metals.
The merb's eyes widened and then he screeched and ran down the hall.
Junko shrugged and got back to mopping the floors.
"What time did they say they'll come?"
"For the twentieth time, Stork, they should be here any minute now… maybe you should stop pacing."
The helmsman circled him several times more in thoughtful and nervous silence, then he stopped abruptly (much to the wallop joy), stared off into space of the hangar they were currently waiting in and then resumed his pacing, mumbling all the way and wringing his hands nervously.
Junko's face was starting to get rather green.
"What if something went wrong?... No, no… some disease or… No, stop that! ..but it is quite possible, right? I mean… NO! no, no… stop thinking doom thoughts, stop thinking doom thoughts!..."
Junko took deep breath and tried to fight down his nausea.
"Calm down, buddy! Everything is gonna be okay! You'll see!" He tried to grin reassuringly at his naturally green companion, but his expression came out rather pained.
"But we don't know that, maybe he-!"
They've heard the engines approaching.
Once the skimmers landed and the riders dismounted their vehicles, Stork let out a sigh of relief. Then came the hugs, the "welcome backs" and other words. Staying rather away from such displays of affection, having the will to perform the act with only one member of their crew, the merb stood patiently on side, looking for a familiar mop of blonde hair. He felt his heart hammer against his chest when he couldn't spot Finn but then Junko moved a little to the right and yes, there he was, grinning happily and looking around-
Then their eyes met.
Stork felt a rush of heat run along his neck right up to his cheeks when the sharpshooter turned to him and practically ran.
But what stunned him the most were those eyes – as expressive and blue as he remembered and so full of life it was almost choking him (but in a good way, he decided, he could get used to it). And most moving of all – those eyes were only gazing at him.
Finally they stood, face to face, both breathing rather hard – although not from the same reasons. One grinning broadly at the other smiling rather shyly, yet with genuine happiness. For a while they just looked at each other – one of them drinking in the sight he thought would be lost for him forever.
"I'm back." He breathed. Stork's small smile widened a little and he chuckled slightly.
"So I see."
"Yeah, I see that too." The grin widened then and they both chuckled, looking at each other fondly.
Silence descended between them, but it wasn't awkward. There was something tingling between them, but for a moment they were too preoccupied to pay it any mind. They distantly heard their friends still talking, relaying Finn's ordeal – rather painful, but successful – words of cheer, exclaims of surprise, but it didn't matter to them now.
"So, Storky… Your promise?" Prompted the blonde lightly. Stork gulped nervously. "You promised me you will tell me the truth about you affections towards me." He clarified. The merb smiled warmly and felt his anxiety evaporate in the gaze of two blue eyes.
"Very well… I…" He paused, took a deep breath and continued. "…I h-have… I mean… I l-love you."
Somehow, the way he stumbled over his confession was adorable for Finn. He grinned.
"Good. Now that we have that covered…" He pulled his friend by his hand towards him, wrapped his arm around his waist, then leaned in and kissed Stork. The merb returned the kiss, wrapping his long arms around the blonds' neck, submitting completely to the new, longed for sensation.
Somewhere in the back of their minds they heard their friends catcalls and cheers, Pipers cries of joy, ovation and so on.
But they didn't mind. They weren't listening to them, well, not entirely.
"Say, maybe we can arrange their wedding?"
Piper, you're doomed.
After the "Welcome back" party, where Finn commented on the state of crap the ship was in, a playful smack on the back from Junko and wrench throwing from Stork, after the night of silly games and stories, the crew went back into their cabins.
In Finns, there were two persons tonight.
The blond stretched lazily on the covers, rubbing his sore back against the mattress. Stork was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching the display with a small smile.
"Man, it's good to be back. Finally a night of good night's sleep!"
"Yes, sure. If you count out the nightmares that might come and haunt you, or a possible Cyclonians attack, or Murk Raiders attack, or…"
"Okay! I get it, I get it! Sheesh. You haven't changed a bit, man."
"I take it's good?"
The grin than answered his question made his stomach explode in butterflies attack. Finn reached out with his hand and pulled the merb down next to him. He wrapped his arms around his love and sighed contently, nuzzling his face in black hair.
"'S good to be home." Stork nuzzled back at that and cuddled closer, feeling completely safe and warm it was slightly surreal to him. But he felt Finn's heartbeat, felt every inhale and exhale, the slight tightening of arms around him and he knew everything.
"Good night, Finn. Sweet dreams."
"Night, Storky. See ya tomorrow."