NOTE: This take place after my other fanfic, 'Midnight Lessons'. Also, this one was long written before I got to watch the second half of the second season, so it may prompt OOCs or details that are overlooked. I do not own Storm Hawks.

"Talking"
Stress
'Thinking'

INFECTIOUS


01 - CONTACT

The Condor Training Room

Darkness. That was all he could see. Ever since she had discovered his ability to see well in the dark, Piper had convinced him to put on blindfolds, much to his chagrin. The only consolation was that she too, would do the same.

'Where is she?' He bit his lip nervously. He pressed his feet flatter against the floor to feel for vibrations. His ears swiveled around madly, and then he heard the slight shuffle behind him. He quickly brought his palms down and tried to flip out of the way, but his sparring partner was faster. She had slid under him and locked his arms between her calves. With a twist of her torso, Stork soon discovered the taste of the cold metal floor and felt an immediate a snare of limbs around him. He struggled a few times before he relented with defeated sigh. "I yield." He drawled.

Piper carefully released him, and then proceeded to pull off her blindfolds. "You're improving." She nodded approvingly.

Stork yanked his blindfold off and grunted.

The navigator rolled her eyes. "You lasted longer this time." She then offered a grin. "You just need to be quicker." She made a move to pat his shoulder, but quickly retracted the moment he cringed.

It had been a month since Piper had agreed to tutor Stork in secrecy, and it was about the same time he became awkward around her. Sure… Stork might be the epitome of awkwardness even to his own kind (or just plain eccentric, she added), but as the days dragged on it became more unusual and obvious - especially when he started to avoid the navigator in front of the whole crew. However, they all agreed that Stork has always been unusual, so they said nothing and decided to let it run its course.

She had cornered him more than once to ask what had offended him; but each time, she was only successful in extracting a string of incoherent babbles about sanitary lifestyle. It was infuriating, so she decided to let it go as long as he would still show up for sparring. It was a wonder why he would still show up at all.

Piper sighed inwardly. Blowing up at Stork might not bring the best solution. The last time she did, he had actually put an extra distance between them. That, and a peculiar spray he conjured every time in her presence. Either way, she decided this ridiculousness had gone for too long, so she treaded carefully. "Stork," She started softly, but firmly. She needed him to listen. "Are we still friends?"

Stork turned to look at her, but he remained quiet. She shook her head and then rested them on her palms. "This is stupid, you know… I don't even know what I did." The seconds ticked by with silence. "I don't mind apologizing to you, but… at least tell me what I did to deserve this." She turned to look at him. He was now staring at the furthest wall. "Everyone in this ship is family to me. Heck, my only family. I just..." She paused to collect herself. "It feels like I'm losing you, my best friend." She exhaled slowly while running through her choices of words. "It really hurts."

Stork stared at her with a pained look. His mouth opened, but he clicked it shut again. Piper sighed.

"It's that bad, huh? Alright, I'm sorry." She smiled sadly. "I wish we could shake on it and then things would be normal again, but…" She shrugged. "I get a feeling that that's not going to happen. Not that way, I mean. Lesson's over." She quietly picked herself off the floor and made her way to the exit.

It could have taken Piper eight seconds to walk out the training room, but then the world decided to turn upside down.

When the stars cleared, Piper found Stork pinning her down with his whole body. A second later, a small syringe was held on front of her face.

Stork's eye twitched. "This is for your own good, Piper."


A month ago...

He had tried to convince himself that it was just a friendly gesture. Humans are strange that way. And yet, it continued to haunt his dreams and had deviously found its way into his wake. No matter how many cleansers, quality loofahs, or in what manner he scrubbed his face with, it was still there. It had gone under his skin, and the cursed poison had spread with every beat of his heart. By the time it reached his head, he knew that it had gone too deep to be saved.

The memory of her lips had driven him mad.

Stork had gone through his trusty thick book of disease over and over again. He had undergone multiple tests to identify the symptoms he carried. No mindworms, no signs of the leruxian flu, no tumor in his chest... nothing. 'If my physical tests showed signs of normalcy, then…'

Something clicked in the back of his mind.

"…it must have been HER." His eyes widened with the sudden epiphany. Almost by instinct, he yanked open a secret drawer under his desk and found a thick black book with worn cover. It was his journal, something he had kept ever since he became their pilot. Stork had made it a personal point to write in it every night, just in case if he were to meet his demise, so anyone who would find it would have a clue of how he had met death's warm embrace. He flicked quickly to the middle of the thick book and scribbled furiously on it.

'Novem 32, 845 C.E.

I think I have found the source of my unusual illness. As I have stated in my previous log, symptoms varies throughout the day. The only thing consistent about it is when I am within visual radius of our navigator, whom I am definitely sure is the source of my discomfort.

My theories?

One: Piper spends a great unhealthy time around her crystals. For that, I am sure she has been subjected to their radiation for quite a while now. Her crystal necklace, which she rarely ever takes off, could possibly absorb most of the emission, and in turn affect whoever is in close distance. Being human, it is possible that she is not as sensitive to the long exposure of the energy of the crystals. However, the flaw with this theory is our fellow human crew mates are deeply affected by her presence as well. The theory that follows this is that she is the only female crew member. I will have to do more observation on this.

Two: Our last mission was on an uncharted terra, the very day I started training with her. It is noted that most of the indigenous flora there expand by means of airborne. She might have made contact with a few and in turn, she had become a vessel. Despite her hygienic nature, she may have failed to get rid of most of the pollen or spore. She could be discharging more of such pollen that causes people in her presence or contact with to become feverish, incompetent, distracted, and gain repetitive nightmares.'

Stork paused, his pen hovering over the last word. In an instant, his cheeks warmed up to the memories of last night's dream.

She looked up at him, her huge eyes shining with a strange glint he couldn't place. Her lips quirked upwards at the edge, and he suddenly wondered how soft it is. Stork was not even aware when her hands had cupped the side of her face, except that he knows that they are warm. Her hands tugged gently, guiding his face closer to hers…

And suddenly, he was tumbling, falling, breaking, drowning… he couldn't breathe. He was dragged down a bottomless abyss by an unseen force. He could not find the strength to fight it. The powerful current began tearing at his flesh and then reaching into his core. Pain exploded into his every being. He found that the more he struggled, the more it intensified. He kicked, he writhed, he screamed until he did not have the strength to feel anymore.

A laughter, somewhere.

Stork willed himself to turn, only to find her holding his heart in her delicate hands. Her lips formed his name, and then the thought of dying wasn't so bad after all.

Stork shook his head quickly. No, maybe it's not a good idea to put in the details of said nightmares. He placed the tip of the pen on the page again.

'The flaw of this theory is again, she doesn't seem to be fully affected.

In any case, she provides a lot of distraction. If this continues, we shall soon meet our demise; ironically, not in the hands of the enemy. The subject must be dealt with immediately. It seems that I must do this alone, as the others have yet to become aware of her strange infliction on them lately. I must also not risk sabotage.'

Oh, he had studied. He observed how the boys would behave around her. Finn would get a terrible headache when she starts talking. Junko had been pestering Piper, following her around like a puppy. Radarr had developed a tendency to crawl away from her. As for Aerrow, he would seem to beam around her. And for some strange reason, it made Stork feel like... like...

Somehow, Stork could not put his finger on it. It made him feel angry, or disturbed, or peeved. He will have to study the symptoms and deal with it later. But if he were to fly the Condor with Piper being left around him all the time, he decided that he should deal with her first or else he will fly the whole Condor into the mountains every time Piper comes close. Oh, it will definitely be the death of them all. With that, he snapped the book shut and went to work.

For the past month, sparring with Piper had only been an excuse to study and observe her. Whenever they have gone out for a game of keep-away, he had snuck a generous amount of anti-everything antidote into her toiletries. Whenever Piper was cooking, he had to rely on either Finn or Junko to distract her long enough to dash more antidotes into her food and drink.

When she was asleep, he quietly sneaked into her room and 'borrowed' her favourite pendant. He had run it through a multitude of radiation tests and exposed it to several crystals. He was far from relief when it showed no signs of change. Not wanting to take the risk, he had since upgraded it by immersing it into his concoction of bacteria repellants before returning it to her nightstand (to which affect, unbeknownst to him, only made her wash off the strange slimy smell the next day).

It infuriated Stork that even after all he had done, it failed to show any changes to their routine. Whenever Piper approached him, he would shuffled away. When she started to speak, he looked away and grunted in response. She reached out, he hastily backed off. It pained him to see her looking confused. Dear sweet spirits, it did. It was at that moment, he had rather thrown himself off a cliff and dive onto a million serrated knives laced with poison than to see her look sad.

And then it hit him.

Whatever she has, have the tendency to make him think of committing suicide. So... It was more serious than he had thought. He must save them all!


The present

Stork decided that the potent antidote must be administered directly. He hid it under his wristband, waiting for her to make a false move. Instead, she gave him blindfolds. It was not going according to plan, but the helmsman complied anyway. Time and time again, whenever her skin brushed against his, Stork was pretty sure the poison within him was amplified. It was a good thing he drank the same antidote every night. All he needed to do was to survive this session.

He was surprised when the girl had decided to talk. It tore him to hear her sorrow; but he wasn't sure if it was really Piper that was talking, or the bacteria trying to lull him into false security. He bid his time until she finally showed her back to him.

Stork was on top of her in a matter of seconds. The poor girl looked bewildered, but he will not let death win. Of course, he felt bad about manhandling her like this, but it was for the better good. He brought the syringe closer to her.

"Stork? What's gotten into you? Oh God! What is that?" Piper struggled furiously, but was quickly reminded how strong the wiry merbian could be.

"Hold still! This will only take a while!" He managed between grunts. He actually wished she could keep her mouth open this time.

"What are you doing? GET! OFF!" Piper's pitch was getting higher. Stork was sure that if he doesn't do something soon, one of the boys might barge in and foil his deed to save them all.

Stork pushed her shoulder down, but tried his best not to hurt her. "Please, Piper-" He let out a grunt. "-if you're in there, Piper, hold on!"

Piper froze, her mouth agape in confusion. At the same time, a drop of the antidote fell into her mouth. It tasted unlike anything she had tried before, and it was not necessarily a good thing either. She convulsed slightly from the revolting bitter aftertaste.

Stork quickly jumped off her. "Piper...?" He backed off nervously. "How do you feel?"

The dazed girl pushed herself off the floor and blinked a couple of times. Piper stood up slowly and looked at the merb strangely. "Stork? I feel..." She took a tentative step towards the Pilot. And then, she grabbed him by the collar and slammed his back towards the wall. "-PISSED OFF, THAT'S WHAT! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?" She screamed in his face.

Stork struggled against her grip. "Guh! Ack! Piper, calm down! You're sick, so I-"

"Sick?" Piper's eyebrow shot up in confusion. "What are you talking about?" She let the merb go and folded her arms. She stood close to the door just in case if Stork would make a run like a bat out of hell.

Stork edged away from the aggravated navigator. "You have a bad case of spores that... well, anyone in close proximity would feel nauseated." He explained. Piper's mouth popped open, but no words came out. "Symptoms include..." He pulled out his hand in front of her and tug at each finger. "-anxiety, nervousness, irritation, short attention span, tendency to daydream, phantom touches, infatuation-"

"Infatu-wha?"

"Infatuation." Stork corrected her. "It's serious than I thought... it has damaged your audible functions!" He nibbled his fingernails. "Oh, this is bad, this is bad..."

Piper shook her head. Like anything that came out of him, it was beginning to sound ridiculous. "Is that why you've been cold to me for the whole month? What gave you that idea, Stork?" She made a move to touch his shoulder, but he pulled away like a released rubber band.

"DON'T TOUCH ME!" He yelped. "This is exactly how it started! The moment you laid your..." His accusing finger quivered in her face. "Guh! You see, Piper... every time you touch anyone, the more it spreads! Don't you see? It's already affected the others too!"

Piper frowned. "What exactly are you talking about?"

"The boys! The boys!" He waved his arms frantically. "The way they behave around you! Finn gets a headache-"

"What? When? How?"

"Whenever you talk to him!"

Piper rolled her eyes. "That's because I keep nagging him for his annoyance and lack of respect." She then muttered. "You'd think that with his thick skull, he'd be immune to headaches."

"Junko would tail you around lately."

"Junko tails…? Oh, it's only because he lent me his aunt's cookbook. He's been trying to get me to find the ingredients for some recipes. I wouldn't mind doing that." She shook her head. "Except that he insisted on cooking them himself."

Stork balked at the idea, but quickly got back on the topic. "Ah, Radarr runs every time he sees you-"

"That's because he's past his medical checkup and he needs to get vaccinated."

"Aerrow flusters when you are close-"

"Aerrow is… wait, he does...?" Piper blinked.

Stork threw his hands up. "He does!"

"In what way?" Curiosity tugged at her, so the girl dared to venture.

Stork paced in a tight space. "His body temperature rises slowly, his face would flush… but only slightly," He lifted his finger. "He seems to be distracted when you are around. No, no, no… can't have that, very dangerous; perfect recipe for mistakes and disaster." His eyes had started twitching.

Piper brought her hand to her lips and smiled shyly. "He... likes me..." She wondered aloud. Stork snapped his head at her direction.

"No, he doesn't! It's the spores, I tell you! And if I know better, it may have the ability to control your mind and bend it to their will!" He huffed, somehow proud of his assessment.

Piper sighed. "You know what, Stork? You're not making any sense at all. Sounds to me like you've a bad case of paranoia."

Stork folded his arms. "Piper, you do remember how many times that has saved our lives, don't you?"

"It does, sometimes, but..." Piper frowned. "I just don't get how you came to this conclusion though."

Stork pursed his lips. "It was... guh, hm..." He visibly struggled. "Since last month, when I started training with you." He plopped onto the floor. "That was a mistake." He said into his palms and started to rock himself back and forth.

Piper joined him on the floor, but she made sure to give him some space. She didn't want to make him any more uncomfortable than he was already. She felt helplessly frustrated. She was a mistake. "Was it... something I did...?" When Stork nodded, she continued. "What was it, Stork?"

He peered up at her. "You..." He paused. He wasn't sure what to say, and how to say it at all. And then, he noticed how close she was. Her eyes looked sorrowful, or mournful. He wasn't sure. And then he watched it flicker from gold to amber. He was hypnotized, mesmerized. Drowning. He was falling, slowly, carefully, and he watched it blur...

Piper's gasp startled him. He opened his eyes, and he found the navigator touching her lips. She was staring at him in shock.

Why-?

His eyes then widened in realization. Before any of them could blink, Piper suddenly found herself alone in the sparring room. She barely heard the exit sliding shut.


Thanks for reading! Comments and constructive critiques, please.