The day she pushed herself too far and found herself face to face with the crippling pressure of all the responsibility she had heaped on herself, she cried.
He smiled at her- his rough brown thumb pushed aside the tears with his usual strength- and asked her if she wanted to join him in his morning meditation ("It helps," he promised.)
She'd never pictured Junko being able to sit still for so long, but her eyes were not in the habit of lying to her and there he was, ears hanging limp by his cheeks, and all of nature cascaded around him while he remained as a boulder is- silent. Simple.
She rubbed him dry with a towel after his adventures in taking outdoor showers, playfully sticking her finger in his ear and wiggling the towel to clean it out.
He was ecstatic when she accepted his offer. "Will you really, Piper?"
The problem was her hair, for some damnable reason it kept itching her cheeks and forehead and distracting her, setting her back to square one.
"I know there are distractions- itchiness, being hungry, getting tired- but once you start doing nothing but listening to the sound of your own breath, you'll understand. I just, gosh, I just don't have the right word for it yet."
She always rose with the morning sun; what surprised her was that one morning Junko decided to rise with the rising Piper- when she walked into the kitchen, the aroma of fresh coffee was the first thing to greet her and Junko's bashful smile was the next.
"Piper, what does this word mea-" "Do I look like a dictionary, Junko?" "..." "Uh..." "Meditate?" "...P-Please."
"It's for making babies." "It's a fine expression of love I'm sure, but if you're not married keep it in your pants please."
He always marveled at how soft her cheek was, the day he had bothered to touch it- now his hand burned to touch it again, and he didn't know why.
He helped her with dinner; or rather she helped him not to screw it up. A flirtatious whip with a wet hand towel- "Don't even think about putting those hot peppers into the cheesecake, buster."
She got up on her tiptoes and fed him the first spoonful, shooting him a brief grin before serving herself and shouting for the other boys to come and eat.
She plugged herself into her headphones and so she couldn't hear the incoming call; heart bursting with the chance he had been waiting for, Junko sped towards her room just for the chance to put one hand on her deliciously bare shoulder and tell her, "You, uh, you got a call."
"Really?" For some reason she began to twist the hem of her shirt, cheeks burning. "Chocolate? You think so?" "Yeah!" he said, emphatically nodding. "That's what it looks like. It's beautiful."
It was their sanctuary, a refuge for six outcasts- it was no wonder that when denied everything else, they had found so much inside each other… some, more than others.
She found him early one morning, pale as a sheet and shaking even though his eyes were closed and he was assuming the position of meditation on the floor. Alarmed, she asked him what was wrong. Streaming grey eyes caught and held hers. "It just kind of hit me," he said, sniffing back once to keep his nose from leaking, "Really, truly hit me," he added, "That one day we're all going to die, and there's nothing anyone can do about it."
She remembers this own disturbing realization at the age of five (complete with the breaking down into tears), but that didn't stop it from periodically resurfacing every few years and make her have to clutch the nearest steady object to keep from keeling over. Up until now, she thought she was alone in this sensation.
"It's scary because we have things that tie us here- material possessions, animals, food..." she lowers her tone, barely audible."...Us. And we don't want to lose them. And we don't want to go into a dark place and not have a map. But the only people who can tell us what it's like are long gone..."
"Or maybe this is the next life and we just don't know it. How do you know you're alive?" She didn't expect him to give her an answer, but he did: he pressed his index and middle finger against the jumping beat lying just under her dark chocolate skin.
She worries that she scared him away somehow, or broke this odd bond that had formed between them, but the next day they went shopping for crystals to refuel the Condor and he did nothing but smile at her the whole time.
"Bet people think we're a couple."
"You wanna be?"
When he hugged her he had to be careful not to shatter her bones; when she said "yes" she feared that now she had to be careful not to break his heart.
He felt as though a little chunk of his soul got ripped away when she let go of his hand as the Condor came back into view.
"Is that it?" she wanted to know that night. Once more they were locked together by their hands, swinging them lightly between them as they looked up at the constellations. "Is it that simple? Are we just, together now?"
A strong northern gale had pushed them far off-course; one locked glance with Junko let her know that no matter where they went he would always protect her, and that she would always be there to protect him.
The problem with Junko is he tripped over himself to do whatever it is he felt she wanted, when all she wanted was for him to love himself as much as he seemed to love her.
The heavenly scent from the kitchen brought all the boys over; Piper let Finn, Aerrow, Stork, and Radarr eat the whole batch because she had already made a separate one for Junko.
Unable to control herself and tired of not knowing how else to break the news, she pulled his head down by the ears and kissed him full on the mouth for everyone to see.
"Ooh lah lah!" "Get a room!" "Remember to use protection, children, diseases are spread in all SORTS of fun ways..." "Will you guys leave us alone?! All we did was kiss!" And Junko just ran off to another part of the ship, beet red from the tips of his ears all the way down his brawny shoulders.
She didn't want Finn to feel as though she had stolen Junko from him, Junko however had no such concerns since as far as he was concerned the only thing that had really changed was that Finn made a little more effort to be nicer to Piper now that he knew Junko might smash him into a pulp if he made her cry.
His eyes were the color of storms, yet nothing could have been further from the truth when describing the gentle giants... except when he was mad. Then the right word would be tempest.
Stork watched them carefully, noting how incredibly lovesick the pair were: they would completely cease any activity at hand if the other walked into the room, they would gaze off endlessly into the cloudless blue skies, they would sigh, A LOT, and just generally act like total fools.
Though he tried to stop it, certain things had begun to change between the two; the kisses got rougher, their breathing grew faster, and he furiously began to view pants as his worst enemy right after Master Cyclonis and the Dark Ace.
She pulled away with a deep, trembling inhale, her eyes focusing hard on his lips as she ran the tip of her finger along them. "I love you, Junko."
He watched, fascinated, as she worked in her crystal lab.
Stork pulled a suicide turn, snapping back a lever to force the Condor to lurch forward in pursuit of the enemy- the only thing that kept Piper from going splat against the windshield was Junko grabbing her by her upper arm and anchoring her to him as he held on to one of the railings.
Sometimes he thought her voice was the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard.
He was drenched to the bone again, this time after having run out in the middle of the night as a surprise shower hit them- he came back inside to find Piper waiting with a towel in her hands and a grin on her face.
She knelt, half on his lap with her hands on his shoulders and her head tilted back in cloudy ecstasy, silently cursing herself as a hypocrite as he gently kissed her neck, not knowing what he was doing to her.
They wound up finishing the night by looking at the sky after the clouds had cleared, and both speech and lust temporarily died in the presence of such a splendor so above the needs of mortal man.
They saw the shooting star at the same time but said nothing, merely shifted so that they could sit a little closer together.
Their love was a lot like the tide, Piper mused- always there, shifting in and out imperceptibly until all at once you found yourself swallowed by the ocean.
She never knew that the Condor was always in such need of repair, but only when she decided to spend time with him and see how he spent his days did she realize how much work he really had on his plate, and how dedicated he was to seeing it all finished properly.
"Do you love me?" (forever and ever and ever and ever? is a child's question that remains unspoken- she is not a child, and despite common belief he if not stupid. But the truth is that either way the answer always remains yes.)
The sky promised them that it would rain again- the difference is that this time they both sat out on the deck in anticipation of the event, sitting in the pose of perfect meditation broken only by the fact that their hands were loosely intertwined.