He remembered the first time she kissed him. And it had been her who kissed him, not the other way around. And as he felt the small shape lying next to him on the bed begin to stir and wake, he couldn't help but remember the first time he saw her. Everything came to him then, in vivid detail. She'd been four years old, and he had been seventeen. Both were considered prodigies, him in war and she in everything she set her swollen, barely-formed baby fingers on. He'd walked into the throne room, wearing his new Talon uniform, still covered in bandages from head to toe and with one arm in a sling from his last battle.
He'd expected to find Cyclonis in the throne- imagine his surprise to see Lark instead. Almost as if she had been waiting for him.
The shape next to him had finally woken up, one purple eye all he could see from under a mess of shaggy black hair. Propping himself up on one elbow, Ace muttered gloomily, "Good morning."
Habel half rose, mismatched eyes squinting uncertainly at the Dark Ace. It'd been over ten years since he'd slept in the same bed as either of his parents, and judging by the fact that this seemed to be his room he could safely assume he hadn't started sleepwalking again. "...Is there any particular reason you're in my bed?"
"Your mother kicked me out."
Habel winced in sympathy. "Ah." And then he sank back down into his pillows, giving his adoptive father a reassuring pat on the back before falling deeply back into sleep.
Habel and Moa sat back to back on a bench in the training yard, watching the new recruits squirm under pressure from Snipe. Only half watching, actually- the only thing the new recruits could see of their future leaders was their profile. The scene was a common one, them sitting together and talking too low for anyone else to hear them. They'd been doing it in the same spot, in the same posture, for years.
"I'm not sure which is worse," Habel muttered to his half-sister, knees drawn up against his chest and his arms wrapped around them. "Wondering if they're having sex and being grossed out by the mental images or knowing they're not and knowing that's also a factor of a deteriorating relationship."
She scoffed, closing her eyes and resting her chin against her chest, almost as if she'd fallen asleep right there. "That's surprisingly insightful, coming from you."
"Oh. You're right. Sorry." He turned around and bellowed into her ear: "OUR PARENTS AREN'T SLEEPING TOGETHER! IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD!"
Moa opened her eyes and sat up straighter only to wriggle her pinky finger into her ringing left ear. Grinning, Habel half fell on top of her, his arms around her shoulders and his chin propped up on top of her head. They ignored anybody who might be staring; they were used to it. Especially Habel for his by-now-not-so-secret choice in bed partners. Which was why he wasn't surprised to find himself lying next to a man that morning so much by the fact that it was his father.
He wasn't flamboyant about it- he didn't swing his hips when he walked or had that peculiar lisp or weakness in the wrists, but he was very much homosexual. The only reason everybody knew about it was because he'd just slept with so many freaking Talons already it was impossible not to know. His parents were more bothered by the quantity of his lovers than their gender and, though shocked, were quite accepting since after all they still had Moa to rely on for an heir.
(Cyclonis didn't mind taboo. Her relationship with his father was taboo, and she was fair in her own way. Also, she found it a little hard to truly grasp homosexual as an actual state of being.)
(Plus, the Dark Ace could be relieved that it wasn't his genetic son that was gay. That made it a little easier to swallow.)
(And Moa was the only one who knew so far- besides a certain female Talon- that Habel was actually bisexual.)
(Habel enjoyed being confusing.)
"You're overreacting," Moa said, not moving to return the embrace- she rarely did, these days. "They just had a fight and they'll be over it soon enough."
"I know, I know." Habel shrugged, turning around again so their backs rested against each other once more. "I was just speculating, is all."
They remained like this, in comfortable silence, until a blot in the sky became a Switchblade became alarming when it hurtled towards the Terra and didn't seem to be slowing down. Tensing up, Moa grabbed Habel by the sleeve of his shirt and dragged him from the bench, shouting-
-just before it landed three yards from where they had been sitting.
His hair in a wild halo around his head, Habel blinked up at the red skies of Cyclonia, wondering, if this morning was any indication of how the rest of the day would go, he could do worse things than heading back to bed and not getting up until tomorrow. Instead he got up and, a little unsteady from the sudden rush of adrenaline, joined his sister where she was already kneeling by the craft, helping the Talon out of his mangled seat. One of his legs was a bloody mess- almost indistinguishable from the metal, it had been smashed underneath the Switchblade as he landed. Habel didn't need a degree in medicine to know a need for amputation when he saw one- there was no leg. It was bloody, pulpy, red jell-o with splintery white sprinkles.
"Call for the medic," Habel said, voice smooth as Snipe came lumbering over. "No- inform the medic we'll be arriving shortly. I believe in this situation it's better to take the wounded to the doctor than the doctor to the wounded."
"What are you talking about? You never move a wounded person when you don't know the extent of their injuries!" There was a warning in Moa's voice. "Wait for the stretcher, Bel."
Habel ignored her. Before anyone could do anything, he had moved. With an expert flick of his hand, a crystal slipped out from the secret pocket inside his sleeve. A flash of light buzzed and crackled, a sheet of golden energy cutting off the leg where it started to deteriorate and instantly cauterizing the wound. Tossing the crystal up in the air, he caught it behind his back only to pull the same hand forward holding a completely different crystal. A solid red hand grabbed the Talon by the middle and lifted him up, carted behind Habel as he walked to the medical station with a frustrated Moa tagging along.
"You just have to show off."
In response, Habel began to put a little more bounce to his step. Making sure he wasn't jostling his groaning, semi-lucid patient, he began to sing. Moa didn't recognize the song, but it had "show off" in the lyrics and that was annoying enough for her to snatch a crystal off a pouch in her belt and zap him with it, rendering him totally mute. She was, after all, second in line for the throne. Her mother had even taught her more about crystals than she had with Habel, and Ravess had taught her rigid discipline. In many ways she was probably more suited to rule than Habel, save for the fact that Habel was more inclined towards the sneaky political side of ruling than she was, and could charm just about anyone into doing anything he wanted.
"Pay attention to what you're doing," she snapped at him, shoving him forward towards the med ward. "There's a man's life in your hands."
In response, he flashed her a brilliant, completely insincere smile that might have looked better on a carnivorous animal than a young man.
Cyclonis rubbed her lower back, pouting and glancing back at the sharp edge of the throne that had jabbed into her. "Careful when you're kissing me, Ace."
"It's not my fault you lost your balance."
"It is if I say it is."
They both looked up in alarm as the doors to the throne room burst open and Moa strode in, two Talons flanking either side of her. "There's an urgent message from-" she paused, pursing her lips as she noticed her mother trying to inconspicuously readjust her collar. "Oh, good. You're kissing again."
Her mother's eyes flashed. "The report, Moa."
Moa shook her head, returning back to the role of Ace-In-Waiting. "He won't speak to me. He says the message is for your ears only. It's better if you just follow me to the medical ward, Master."
The next day, everyone could feel the stillness in the air. All activity was called to a temporarily halt, all forces called back to home in case of war. There had been a brutal, bloody skirmish on the borders between Atmosia and Cyclonia- the first in nine years. Tensions were high, to say the least.
There was only one person in the entire stronghold who moved without purpose, without direction. Orders and questions buzzed through one ear and soared out the other. Moa strode through the hallways, arteries of the great, pulsing center of her world, and felt nothing. Not the soldiers who bumped past her and profusely apologized, or those who had to press themselves against the walls of the narrower hallways to avoid her.
Red eyes glazed, she found herself in front of a door. It didn't open automatically for her, and when she looked up she found it wasn't her room, or even Habel's, but Ravess'.
She pressed her fist against it, not hard enough to knock, and kept it there. The cold metal warmed from her body heat and she spread her fingers wide, pressing her palm against the door now.
But there was no one around to hear her, or see her, or tell her parents what she was doing. How utterly mad it was.
"Ravess," the princess said, to test her voice, to see if it was still working. No one could have heard her- as if there was anyone there to hear her in the first place. "Ravess," she said louder, slapping her palm against the metal. "Ravess. Please open the door. If you're in there, open it now." As an afterthought: "That's an order, Ravess!"
Even though technically Ravess out-ranked her, she was still the Princess.
Silent, unmoving, cold, insensitive. The door remained shut.
"Ravess-!" It started as a raw shout, because she couldn't keep it inside her any longer, because she didn't care if anyone heard her, but no. Something seemed to snag at the words, yank them back down inside her to where they were spawned. Croaking, without the willpower to say it once more, Moa completely broke down, her legs giving way underneath her until she was kneeling at the door. Trying to wipe the tears away as fast as they fell with one hand, the other remained glued to the door, waiting for it to glide under her flesh and cause her to fall forward onto the floor because there was nothing there to support her weight any longer.
But no one ever opened it.
Far too used to his near-silent entries by now, Cyclonis could tell by the mere shifting of the air pressure in the room that the Dark Ace had arrived. "Oh, what now?" she snapped, irritated, her eyes glued to the crystal machine in front of her. "I'm busy. I'm harried. I'm on the verge of fucking war again and I'm working so that I might not have to send my aging husband and my battle-virgin daughter to the front lines. So what?" with that last word she whirled around to face him, arms akimbo. "What, Ace? It had better be important."
Unperturbed, he crossed his arms and said, "Talk to her."
She turned around again, one hand hesitating before she remembered which lever to pull and began to work again. "About?"
"You're not nearly oblivious enough to not notice she hasn't left her quarters since Ravess died."
"I'm not, and never have been, the ideal mother figure," Cyclonis said, the flash of a chemical reaction before her eyes entrancing her for a moment. "But I know her well enough to know I'm the last person she wants to see right now. As unpleasant as that might be for me to accept."
The Dark Ace made a noise of frustration. "Listen- she's doing this- crystal thing-" he tried to articulate what the problem was.
"I can't go near her room."
"It's just this giant red miasma. The only one who can go through is Habel."
"And he is-?"
"Bringing her food. Not telling me what she's up to."
"The usual pseudo-rebellion. I expected as much. Let them keep their silence; it adds to their bond as siblings." Flash.
"Don't act so nonchalant."
"I am busy, Dark Ace. And she's an adult. Roughly."
"One that's never felt death before. And she's not handling it well."
A mechanical hand held a crystal in front of her, letting her examine it. "She knows death," Cyclonis said, distant once more. "But everyone reacts differently when it's the death of someone close. So until the moment where I absolutely must talk to her or send her on some sort of mission, I'll fetch her, but until then give her her spac-"
The Dark Ace and Cyclonis turned around. Moa stood there in the doorway at attention, red eyes even as they gazed into her mother's.
Cyclonis was only half-turned, but after a moment she stepped away from her machine down to her daughter, stopping in front of her and looking up. From out of nowhere appeared a small envelope, pulled out of Cyclonis' sleeve with her usual flourish. "This is for you," she said. "And... is there anything you need?"
Moa took the letter, tilting her head to the side. "...Need?"
"Anything I can do," she clarified. "Any way I can... help."
She reached up and touched Moa's cheek, briefly, but fondly.
Moa shook her head 'no'.
"Then do me a favor and drag your father out of here before he gives me a headache."
Habel tossed the letter back at her. "Wish I could say I'm surprised." He yawned, stretching his arms above his head and falling backwards onto his bed.
She sat down next to him. "Thanks?"
"Oh. Right. Congratulations."
"So Ravess left you..."
"Her job. Her instruments. Her weapons. Her books. And anything Snipe didn't want. Which was-"
"She was..." Her hands folded on her lap. She looked down at them, felt a tear break loose. "A very special woman."
A Few Weeks Later..
"Let me go with you."
Cyclonis pulled her cape on, looking down at her husband from where he still laid on their bed. "Absolutely not," she said. "This is a mission of peace."
The Dark Ace stood up, running a hand through his hair, which had lost a bit of its substance over the years but still remained pitch black. "Which could turn messy in the blink of an eye."
Cyclonis smirked. Getting back on the bed, she settled onto his lap, arms around his neck. "Atmosians don't have the spine for that kind of dirty dealing," she told him, kissing him briefly. "We're the bad guys, remember?"
"Your presence is associated with violence. Mine simply evokes fear. So you stay. I'll take Moa, she's almost as good as you."
With a single kiss as her parting gift, she got up and left.
At first it was like a normal patrol- except her mother was with her. Then, the red skies began to lighten into violet and they didn't head back towards home, instead stopping on an uninhabited Terra to camp for the night. The next morning, Moa got her first taste of blue Atmosian skies. Irrationally, she wondered if the color meant the air would be colder. But the high altitude winds remained at a constant, without a dip or a rise in temperature.
The Atmosians were waiting for them.
She heard her mother laugh. "So predictable. We're on time and they're early. They want to make sure we don't cause trouble- already scared of us and we haven't even shown up yet."
Moa tightened her grip on her handlebars, taking comfort from the weight of the quiver full of arrows on her back and the straight sword at her side. "Do we... normally cause trouble?"
"Trouble is an understatement, my dear. We cause war."
"I know that, but do we have a history of sour peace treaties?"
"Generally, yes. You'd think these Atmosians would have learned. Fortunately for us they're ill-organized and soft-hearted, and we're actually here for a cease-fire this time, so this should go swimmingl-"
Her throat tightened.
Moa glanced at her, waiting for her to finish the sentence.
"Oh, shit," Cyclonis muttered, eyes trained on the convoy of Sky Knights ahead of them.
Moa was instantly on alert. She flew a little closer to the Master, asking: "What? What is it?"
Cyclonis shook her head. "Nothing. Just a surprise."
Then the two parties had met, with the agreed-upon space of twenty yards separating them in the sky. The afternoon sun beat down on them in the cloudless air, the constant winds causing the multicolored banners of no less than five Sky Knight Squadrons and the single red-and-black of Cyclonia's roosting raven to flutter and flap.
Holding out one arm, Cyclonis spoke to Moa without looking at her. "The bird, dear."
Moa unstrapped the cage from the side of her ride, pulling a trained hawk from within, a note tied to its leg. She transferred it to her mother's armored forearm, pulling the hood free from the bird's eyes.
With a swing of her arm she let the bird loose. It flapped its wings and zoomed over to the other side, landing on the arm of a handsome red-haired man with a very familiar insignia on his breastplate. Suddenly, Moa knew what had her mother so agitated. She flew as close to the Master as she dared, hissing between clenched teeth: "Mother, that's Aerrow Strike. As in, the Aerrow Strike. As in the never-lost-a-sky-duel-"
"Lies and propaganda."
"But he beat dad."
"He never beat me."
Moa had nothing to say to that, so she changed topic. "I thought the Storm Hawks disbanded?"
"I believe I said that already."
They sat, straight-backed, in their seats, waiting for Aerrow to read the peace treaty and send back some sort of response. Knowing the way things worked, Cyclonis estimated that they could be floating here all day long. She was prepared for that, though- there wasn't a single generic Switchblade among the elite Talons she had brought with her today. They were all more fuel-friendly, and could in fact stay afloat all day if they needed to.
After he read it, Aerrow looked up at them. And from across the space between the two parties, he lifted one arm and waved at them. Cyclonis gave no response, other than a sidelong glance at her daughter, and a raised eyebrow. "Does he expect me to wave back?" she wondered out loud.
Moa gazed on in astonishment. "You know, I think he does."
Quite suddenly there was a loud crackle in the air. All the soldier jumped- only to realize it was a pair of speakers being turn on. "-r me? Is this thing on? Oh. Ahem."
"Is that your daughter? She looks like you. Got your- er- looks the same when she's mad."
"....he is actually trying to make small talk..."
"So, uh, I'm about to have another kid too. Guess you got a head start on me though. That one looks like she's all grown up already."
"Mother, is this some sort of trap? Is he trying to get us to let our guard down?"
"No, dear, this is just Aerrow."
Aerrow, perhaps realizing he wasn't getting a response this way, decided to barge right into what he really wanted to say. "Now, this is a delicate situation we find ourselves in." He waved the message at them, the paper flapping in the winds. "And you surprise me by being reasonable in the terms and condi-"
"You were the ones who attacked our Talons without provocation!"
Cyclonis reached over and smacked at the console to Moa's Switchblade, shutting off the microphone. "Moa, we're trying to not start another war here. Save the finger-pointing to a time when things aren't such a tinderbox ready to explode." Purple eyes burned. "So answer me this: Am I going to have to hit you instead of the machine next? Like a child?"
Aerrow had responded. "Sorry, Princess, but they were way out of Cyclonian territory when they got shot down. Also, I can't speak for the ones who shot. Yelling at me won't make much a difference."
"Goodness, he's not threatening to wedgie us. I suppose he has grown." Then Cyclonis flicked on her microphone. "I brought a bird so we wouldn't have to shout."
"I like talking better. You can't read a person through the ink."
"But you're not reading me. You're reading the ink. I'm sure you're aware there hasn't been any trouble between our countries for some time now. I'm gaining something of a reputation as a peace maker among the Cyclonians, you know. So all I'm asking is for you to sign the paper, turn around, and we can all go on with our blessedly uneventful lives."
"Great. Sounds good to me."
"Then do it, Storm Hawk, and let's be done with this business."
Aerrow looked over at Moa, very obviously scrutinizing her. "Seriously though. When she's mad? Just like you."
"The treaty, Aerrow."
The Dark Ace paced the hangar. He hadn't left it since early that morning, still waiting for some word from the Master. Habel came by once or twice to keep him company, when he wasn't busy performing the Master's usual duties.
"You know, I rather like this whole being in charge thing."
The Dark Ace sat on the edge of his Switchblade. "Well. I suppose you'd better get used to it. It'll be your full-time job someday."
"I hope you're there to see it. Knowing you, though, you're likely to go out in a firey explosion before I hit twenty."
"I like the way that sounds."
"Sounds like a good way to go. Big explosion. Everybody watching."
"And they say I'm an attention whore."
"No, son, they just say you're a whore."
"...I walked right into that one."
The Dark Ace threw a smirk in Habel's direction. But then he grew solemn again, glancing out at the empty horizon. Moving towards the lockers, he returned with a helmet and a pair of goggles. Throwing them at Habel, he said, "Come on."
"We're leaving. They should be on their way back- we'll meet them halfway there."
"Has anyone ever told you you're a paranoid old fucker?"
"I have been called many things, but paranoid was never one of them."
"So they've called you an old fucker?"
Habel squeezed the helmet on tight. "Watching it."
Cyclonis rolled her eyes heavenward. "Oh. Right on schedule."
Moa peered out into the night sky. "Is that the man who sired me and my unfortunate whelp of a brother?"
"It is, in fact, them. I knew he wouldn't be able to sit still for long."
Cyclonis sent the other Talons to way stations, soon she was flying alone with Moa, headed towards the lone Switchblade headed their way. The first thing she did was scold Habel: "Why aren't you piloting your own sky ride?"
Habel had a response ready. "Because I'm lazy, Mother."
"I'd better see you training all day tomorrow."
"Stop mothering me."
The Dark Ace reached behind him and gave Habel a smack on the back of the head, designed to be loud rather than to cause any actual damage. Moa waved at him. "Hi Dad. Bel."
Habel responded first, as usual. "Moa, my sweet. I missed you."
"Out of my Switchblade," Dark Ace said.
Moa grinned at him. "It was fun while it lasted," she said, nimbly leaping out of her seat and onto the Dark Ace's wings. "Mom, why don't you ride with the Dark Ace? I'll take Habel home and see if he hasn't learned how to manage a set of wings yet."
"Excellent idea," opined the Dark Ace. "Get your ass on the seat, boy."
There was a quick transfer of bodies- The Dark Ace had his beloved Switchblade (and his wife) back, and soon the heirs were revving their respective motors and giving each other nasty grins and making bets to see who would reach the stronghold first.
Moa started the countdown. "On your mark, get set-"
Habel took off.
"You little brat! I'm gonna kill you!"
The Dark Ace and Cyclonis were left in a cloud of exhaust, coughing and waving the afterburn away from their faces. "I really wish I knew when they were joking," Cyclonis confessed, sighing. Then she twisted in her seat to look at her husband in the eyes, smiling softly.
Turning to face forward again, Cyclonis took the handlebars and began to fly. "Guess who was there at the meeting today. Starts with an A and ends with a-"
The Dark Ace made a very loud, very sudden noise of hatred and anger, slamming one heel into the side of his Switchblade. "Him?"
"Doesn't he have anything better to do than constantly be a-"
"I will never. Calm down." He paused. "Ever."
"All right, all right, then let's talk about something else if you're going to be a hothead."
"Like what? I want to know how it went."
He shook his head, knowing he wasn't going to get any sort of straight answer from her. He would just have to wait until they got home, to ask Moa for a full debriefing. Which, by the way, seemed like it would take forever, because Cyclonis was flying at a leisurely pace. Every so often she glanced up at the clear cloudless skies, admiring the stars. The Dark Ace had become somewhat inured to the sky, since he was constantly in it, but he knew that Cyclonis was most often landlocked, and decided to let her enjoy the night.
He rested his chin on top of her head.
And then he remembered again.
"Do you recall..." he started, before slowly straying off. "Never mind."
"Well... the first time you kissed me."
"A little." He reached around her, holding her tight. "You were four years old, you know."
Cyclonis gave a startled laugh, looking over her shoulder. "What? What do you mean?"
"I mean, the first time you kissed me you were four years old. You probably don't remember- hell I try not to remember."
"Tell me about it."
"It was... Well, you were always an oddball."
"Come on, Ace. Tell me. We have all the time in the world."
She'd been four years old, and he had been seventeen. Both were considered prodigies, him in war and she in everything she set her swollen, barely-formed baby fingers on. He'd walked into the throne room, wearing his new Talon uniform, still covered in bandages from head to toe and with one arm in a sling from his last battle.
He'd expected to find Cyclonis in the throne- imagine his surprise to see Lark instead. Almost as if she had been waiting for him.
"What are you doing here, brat?"
The child looked up at him, already haughty, already smug, already assured of her continued reign of terror over this stronghold. "Oh, you're that new kid," she said, a child's lisp only barely evident. "The Knight."
"I'm not a Knight. Where's your father?"
"I care, you obnoxious pest."
A hand clamped down on his shoulder. "That's obnoxious pest is going to be your Master someday," said the former Cyclonis, yanking Ace aside. "Lark, that's no way to talk to your champion."
"He's yours, child. Your protector. Only the finest soldier we have, and the most loyal. Apologize to him."
"...So you did."
"Did I really? Kiss and make up? That's... rather cute."
"Cute my ass, you were a-"
"Yes. You were Habel. You were like an evil mix of Habel and Moa when she was still small. Christ, she was a monster." They fell into a comfortable silence again, accompanied by only the stars.
"You're a better kisser now, by the way."
"I had help. See, there was this really sexy teacher...Lovely green eyes, red hair..."
He pinched her. She laughed.
"You don't miss things the way they used to be, do you?"
"I'm not normally one for such sentimental emotions as regret and nostalgia, Master. Today is today, and tomorrow hopefully will still be there when I wake up."
"Lovely philosophy, Dark Ace. It suits you."
The titles are habit and routine. The days of the constant power struggles were long gone- most likely because they decided to join forces against the threat of their own children's dangerous pride and self-confidence. He knew her as Lark in his heart, and his name was no longer secret to her either.
"Hey," he said on a whim.
She turned around again when he didn't continue, wondering what it was he wanted to say when he caught her chin in his hand and tilted her head up, catching her lips in a tight, clinging kiss.