I do not own Storm Hawks, so there. Even if I do, it would've burned in hell and never reach the level of fandom it has now. Yay, Nerd Corps (and thank you, Asaph 'Ace' Fipke)!

In this fic, Piper would have been 19 years old, and Stork would be 25.

--

MIDNIGHT LESSONS

A soft knock carried through the careful clinking of her crystals. "Piper?" Came a muffled but familiar voice after that.

"Come in!" She called out without bothering to look up from her collection. She heard the soft whoosh of the door, and the soft padding of cautious steps that stopped behind her. She took the cue to turn around. "Yes, Stork, wh--" She stopped in mid sentence. In all the years they have spent on the Condor, never had she seen him without his shirt on. She studied his well-toned form, and it somehow brought forth an unfamiliar sensation within her. Surpise, she surmised. What had he been doing...?

Stork scratched the back of his head, clearly uncomfortable with the attention he was getting. "Eh.." He began, snapping the navigator out of her trance. "I was thinking... doom comes in many form, but you know that already, microscopic or evidently gargantuan, with or without arms... uhm, no matter how many traps I'd lay out on this ship, uh... anyway, sometimes we get unwanted visitors on board the condor--"

Piper immediately put down her experiments. "We have a visitor?" She asked, her eyes wide. "Is it Starling?"

"Uhm, no. No visitors at all..." He coughed up another nervous strain when she lifted a curious eyebrow. "Well, it's just that when you guys go out for missions, I'm always being left alone to fend the Condor--" He shifted a foot.

Her confused look turned into a smile. "Oh, Stork, we're sorry." She reached out and pulled the bewildered Merb to sit down next to her. "All this while, you've always been saying that you'd rather stay on board instead of coming with us. We didn't think you'd feel left out when we took it for granted." She put a hand over his. "So you actually want to participate, is that it?" She offered.

He rapidly blinked his eyes. "Uhm, no..." Again, she pulled a confused look. "I still prefer to stay within the safe confines of the Condor. However, it's just that sometimes I don't trust my own inventions, see? They could malfunction, and anyone can bypass it if I were not careful."

"But you're always making sure that they--?" She asked again, before an impatient finger made its presence in front of her face.

"But sometimes, shit happens." He said flatly.

Piper removed his hand from her view. Stork never strike her as one who would casually swear. Whatever it is, it must be something huge bothering him. "What's wrong then?" A slow realization hit her. "Has Finn been tinkering about again? If he has, I will definitely talk to him in the morning. He has been messing around with my stuffs lately and--"

Stork sighed. "Piper, please let me finish." She raised her palms, and he continued. "It's just that... well, There have been many incidents when I'm on board alone, unwanted guests would jump on me. And if it weren't for my traps, who knows if I've still been here at all? So I've been thinking, what happens if they do get jammed? What happens when they malfunction?" He held his head, as if it would fall apart if he didn't keep it there. "If would be a slow torturous death, that's what." Stork carefully turned his focus on her, eye twitching possibly 15 times a second if Piper ever bothered to count. Then, he leaned menacingly close to her, his face just an inch away from hers. "So..." He drawled. Piper had to force down a small squeak. She sometimes forget how creepy the Merb can be, until he announced "Will you teach me Sky Fu?"

--

Piper still couldn't register it in her head. She tried pinching her herself, but there he is, gloriously stretching with impossible flexibility with her in their training room. She shook her head. He is a Merb after all, a race that sometimes wonder what the hell their ancestors were thinking when they decided to reside on Terra Merbia, renowned for it natural disasters that would put any weather forecaster off-track. Not to mention, its lurking predators of any form or plant that would maul you if you weren't alert. Or paranoid. Paranoia is any Merb's best friend when it comes to surviving the crazy terra, and Stork is a good example of its product (which explains his shirtless appearance. The pilot had said he'd rather catch a cold than let a rash infest within his suit when he will start to sweat, which will probably lead to a skin disease which will slowly seep into your skin and eat you inside out.. according to Stork). Still, asking for lessons exactly tonight onward (when everyone is asleep, he insisted) greatly takes the cake of any weirdness she could pull from her memory. It seemed so urgent to him, and he has been the only guy who had been treating her with utmost respect after all, so she relented to his wish.

"Good." She said, making him stop. "First things first, you will learn the variation of a fighting stance. It will determine how firmly placed you are, enable you to calculate your next move, or successfully parry off an attack without hurting yourself." She placed her feet apart and squatted slightly. "This is a horse-riding stance."

"Duh."

She glared, glad to elicit a slight 'meep!' from Stork. "This stance is one of the most stable form, especially if you want to uh... stand on your ground." She finished lamely, and she ignored the small rasp from him. "But you need to be really relaxed if you want to make a swift move afterward." She shrugged her shoulders loose. "Now stand an arm's length in front of me and follow suit." She ordered. Stork did just that, his elbows tucked to his side and his palms fisted. "Loosely now," She said again. "And slowly, throw a direct punch at me. Like this," She demonstrated. "Oh, and don't move your shoulders. It's not a good idea to throw yourself forward sometimes. You'd lose your balance, and you'll just hurt yourself. Always keep them in place." His left eye twitch, and she rolled hers. "Just do it, Stork."

Stork inhaled, and with a careful calculation moved his right fist forward. "That's right," She encouraged him. "Now, if your opponent punches you with his or her right arm, deflect it away with your left," She unfolded her left arm and neatly pushed his arm away. "And with your right fist," She unfolded her right arm. "You hit their weak spot." She tapped his gut, chest, jaw, nose, and eye. "Repeat." He nodded, and did the same to her. "Very good." She praised.

"Eh," He shrugged with a nervous grin. "So what now?" He asked.

Her lips quirked into a smile. "Repeat."

--

"Exactly how long do we have to do this?" Stork asked boredly. It had been only 10 minutes of the same slap-my-fist-away routine, and his thighs were starting to cramp. It amazes him to see that she didn't flinch one bit.

"Until you get the hang of it." She said. She deflected his punch.

"But I already have." He complained. He pushed her fist away.

Piper frowned. "Look. You asked me to teach you Sky Fu. If you're not patient enough to get things done right..." She threw her left fist forward. "You can't depend on it when you need it the most."

Stork countered her move. "But I've already gotten the hang of this!" He aimed for her chest with his right.

Piper pushed it away, her eyes narrowed. "Really?" And she purposely thrust her fist forward with blinking speed, with the intent to prove her point. Instead, she was the one who was surprised. He had dodged it quickly.

Stork held the same expression as she did, before he turned it into his signature grin. "Oh, I definitely think so." But Piper didn't stop there.

Now Piper is the type of girl who won't back down from challenges, and she won't take them lying down like a good girl. No. The more difficult the situation is, the more obsessed she is with besting it. She threw more quick punches, but Stork kept dodging them with amazing accuracy, and still wearing the same infuriating grin on his face. Piper was starting to think that if he's not thrilled with his newfound ability, then he must be mocking her. "Grah!" She kicked a foot forward, but he leapt away in time.

"Piper! What the heck??" Stork yelled. But her fist was fast approaching. He dodged again, but this time, he arched his back and felt his palms on the floor. He felt his stomach muscles pull his feet upwards, and snatched her fist with his feet in the process. Piper was momentarily airborne, but quickly gained her balance and landed on the floor with a graceful flip. She ran towards him again, her fists and feet desperately wanting to hit something, but finding nothing at each time. It quickly extended into a clash of elbows, knees, calves, head-butts, and almost every part of their body.

"Piper?!" He yelled again, worried with the crazed look on her face. He finally caught both her palms and pulled her closer. "Do you have mindworms or something?" He asked worriedly. But that only furthered insulted her, and she kicked him in the chest. Stork staggered backwards, but dodged in time for more of her rapid attacks. When Piper showed no sign of slowing down, he decided to stop it all at once. He backed up until the wall was a step behind him, and waited for her to come closer. With careful calculation and a swift move, he moved to the side, pinned her arms behind her and pressed himself as close as he can, until she was surely squashed up against the wall. "What's gotten into you?!" He half-yelled into her ear.

Piper found herself perfectly defenseless in his surprisingly strong grip. In fact, she couldn't move at all. She tried to wriggle her legs, but he had tucked them between his calves. She then realized their current situation, and felt she her cheeks getting warm. "Stork?"

"Piper?" Stork asked for confirmation. It could be mindworms. Oh great. Of all the times he could ask for lessons, why now? Then again, why should he ask anyway? He can't let her go now, she might turn on him. Wait? How about yelling for the boys, they'll surely--

The navigator exhaled in defeat. "How did you... all this while, you don't really need me to teach you Sky Fu, you know." She turned her face slightly to see him raise his eyebrow. "You knew how to fight all along. So why didn't you come with us every time we go out for missions?"

Stork's grip didn't relax. "I am the pilot of the Condor. If no one steers her, who will? Besides, no one can be as nice to her anyway." He huffed. "As for this..." He frowned. "I have no idea."

Piper shook her head. They both stayed silent for a while. "Uhm, Stork...?"

"Yeah?" He responded nervously.

"I can't feel my arms."

--

20 minutes later, after lots of coaxing and guaranteed absence of mindworms, the helmsman and navigator found themselves back in Piper's room again. She inspected his chest for the bruise she had left him, and applied a salve gently over it. Stork winced. "I'm sorry." She said earnestly for the 15th time.

"You won't have to say it if you hadn't gone berserk, you know." Stork frowned.

Piper sighed and put the first-aid kit away. She tugged her hair backwards. "I know... I just... I just don't know what came over me..."

"A-hah!" Within a blink, Stork scooted up against the wall. "MINDWORMS! That must be it! I tell you! It must've buried itself deeply in there somewhere! Quick! I know that if we get to Atmosia in time, we could have it--"

"Stork! Stork, calm down!" Piper grabbed his accusing finger and commanded all her strength into forcing him to sit next to her. At the same time, she wondered how his scrawny figure could harbor such impossible strength. "Look..." She looked into his rapidly twitching eyes. "I just have this ego, you know? When I was growing up, I've always been excluded in any games the boys in my village play. Because..." She gazed downwardly. "...I'm a girl. Like it or not, most male species see us as the weaker sex. So I trained really hard for years just to prove them that I'm just as capable." She looked up at him. Stork seemed to have ceased his violent tremblings, only to have them replaced with intrigue. "But you... for someone who hardly ever steps out of the ship for any physical contact, you just flowed into it so naturally." She cocked her head sideways. "Maybe it's because of your conditioning while growing up on Terra Merbia."

Stork frowned slightly. "Meaning..?"

"Well, you know..." She shrugged. "Your home terra is after all one of the most hazardous place of all Atmos. Your race has evolved to survive its extreme conditions and predators, so your reflexes are already built into you. It's just that you need to know how to counter attack, or deliver offensive blows."

Stork considered her logic, and then he nodded slowly. "Yeah... that could be it. But we are more about evading mouths of death instead of running directly into it."

"That can be honed." Piper assured him. "But judging by your performance just now, you will catch up pretty fast." She gazed at the floor again. "It's... not fair."

The pilot then realized something, and he felt like slapping himself for it. Of course... Why didn't he see it? Now he felt as idiotic as the rest of the other crew members (he thinks of them that way sometimes). "Piper," Stork began. "I don't know about you, eh, but... for what it's worth, I think you're really the best at what you do. See here?" He pointed at his bruised chest. "You did get me after all. That counts for something, didn't it?"

Piper blinked. "You think so?"

Stork managed a smile. "Sure I do. Otherwise... I, uh... I wouldn't have personally asked you for the lesson, now did I? And you wouldn't have been part of the crew too, would you?"

It was her turn to smile, but only slightly. "Thanks, Stork, but... I sometimes feel like the guys don't quite see me that way. Like, I'm being taken granted, you know?" She folded her palms. "Even for all my hard work, I'm still a girl on this ship." She waved her arms exasperatedly. "I still have to do the washing, the cleaning, and the cooking. Typical 'girls' stuffs', according to Finn. I hardly get any appreciation at all!"

Stork rolled his eyes. "Eh, well... That's just Finn, you know." He said. "But, they do let you go onto the battlefield alongside them, didn't they? And they do let you plan the strategy for the next attack--"

"Which they seldom follow." Piper added sourly. Another awkward silence followed.

Stork coughed. "Uhm... I think I should... leave now. I need to get up early tomorrow, go for an early checkup on the Condor before we fly off for the next Mission. You know, the usual."

"Otherwise we're doomed." Piper ended it for him with a smile.

He returned the smile. "Yes, that." He walked towards the door, stopped, and turned his head. "Good night, Piper."

Piper stared at him. After a while, she decided to get off her bed and walk up to him. This, in turn, made the jittery pilot all the more nervous, and she was well aware of that. But she's not going to let him off this one. She spread her arms to her side, and enveloped them around his thin waist. She let her face press against the side of his bare chest. "Thanks, Stork." She mumbled.

It took Stork a while to get out of his momentary shock. "Uhm, what?" Her continued to stare at the navigator, as if she was Death in disguise coming to claim him.

She looked up at him and smiled. "Thank you. It meant a lot to me." She let the poor Merb go, only to reach up and pull his face down to her. She kissed his cheek. "Good Night, Stork." She said as she pushed the dazed pilot out of the door. "Same time tomorrow?" She asked, but the door had already slid shut.

Stork lifted a hand, and felt his cheek. Did she just...? A huge smile scarred his deep green face. Wow.

--

I was listening to Steve Vai's Touching Tongues. Don't know how that's related to this, but I'm sure that's how Stork would feel right now. Sorry for the slight OOC. Thanks for your time, readers.